16 January 2013

Kenya: How We Can Attain Quality Education


Article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) states: "Everyone has the right to education. Education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages. Elementary education shall be compulsory. ... Higher education shall be equally accessible to all on the basis of merit" UDHR further stipulates that "... education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. Parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children."

The month of January usually marks that hectic period when parents worry about getting new schools for their children. And with the beginning of a New Year, we are back into that season.

It is the season should make us rethink our education policy to establish just how equitable it is and how well it dovetails with the letter and spirit of Article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

The same requirement for nations to provide free elementary education is captured in the Dakar Framework of Action, which was geared towards driving countries--especially in Africa--to provide 'universal access to free primary education.'

It is remarkable that the Kibaki-Raila Government has enforced some aspects of UDHR and the Dakar Framework of Action in regard to the freeness of primary education. But much remains to be done, especially in a devolved political system where County Governments will be expected to spearhead certain fundamental aspects of education.

A quick review of the education system in Nairobi County shows serious disparity in terms of availability of quality education in areas inhabited by the rich and those inhabited by the underprivileged.

Various detailed as well as dipstick studies carried out in the education sector consistently show one thing: that our levels of investment in education in areas where the less privileged in society live is extremely low whereas the opposite is the case in the so-called leafy suburbs of Nairobi County.

This is so, yet 60% of Nairobi's population is to be found living in informal settlement areas occupying just 5% of land in Nairobi. This means that there is heavy congestion and almost no space for construction or expansion of schools to serve Kenyans living in such areas.

Indeed, it comes as no surprise that in some of these informal settlement areas of Nairobi County there no new schools have been built in over 15 years yet the number of school going children keeps going up.

Progression from primary to secondary school for those Nairobians living in informal settlements drops by 80% (which means only 20% of those who enter primary school in underprivileged areas will ever set foot in secondary).

On the other hand, progression to secondary school in affluent suburbs drops by an average of 20%, meaning that over 80% of those who enter primary school in affluent areas proceed to secondary school.

To tackle these disparities, the Nairobi County Government will have to address the problem at its root. This will include coming up with policies that will provide for:

Reserving public national schools exclusively for children from public primary schools while those from private primary schools go public secondary schools and private universities so as to balance opportunities

Better welfare for teachers by providing them with decent housing and transport

Creation of social amenities for school children

Introduction of practical education with market-oriented technology

Establish structures that support those who drop out of secondary schools to address the gap left elevation of almost all tertiary colleges into universities

Enhanced religious studies to provide students with a better moral basis

Experts have identified four elements as critical pillars to the government's obligations--whether national or county-- to provide right to quality education. These are: availability; accessibility; acceptability and adaptability. These are the 'Four As' that will be the hallmark of Nairobi County education system under my administration.

According to 2007 statistics, the Government spends an average of 1,020 shillings per pupil per year to finance free primary education. Evidently, such a low investment cannot be counted upon to finance cutting edge education.

The importance of education cannot be gainsaid. Education is the great equalizer that can be trusted to propel those who acquire good schooling, from abject poverty to a lifestyle of comfort and means.

The writer is an aspiring Governor for Nairobi and former Managing Director of Mumias Sugar Company

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