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FREE EDUCATION: THE REAL COST by Mary Susan Lavender

By May 11, 2020 No Comments

At a school in Uriri constituency, the Head teacher reported to one of the local dailies that their school is full to capacity and students are learning under a tree. One class in the school has 124 students, while the recommended number of students per class according to the Ministry of Education is supposed to be 40. Elsewhere in Nakuru County, another head teacher airs her concern as their dormitory cubicle that once housed eight students now has twice that number. That has been the reality in most schools. Close to one million standard eight leavers have joined form one this year bringing the government close to its goal of 100 percent transition from primary to secondary.

However, this does not call for celebration in most public schools. This policy that was introduced in 2017 by the then Education Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang’i has seen schools suffer in terms of overcrowding, poor teacher to student ratio, lack of infrastructure and facilities, lack of funds and poor quality in terms of service delivery. Operation “Tupeleke Watoto Shule” as it was termed was a welcome relief considered thoughtful and timely and a part of the global campaign to give all children access to 12 years of learning. Schools that were once single streamed woke up to the news that they had been upgraded to double streams; no planning, no new infrastructure and no addition or increase of teachers. The schools are forced to make do with what they have while also ensuring they deliver.

Which begs the question; what thought, if any, went into this policy?  Who were involved in the process of arriving to the policy and are they out of touch with the reality of our schools? How does a rural school smack in the village with a capacity to school 200 students go from that number to 800? Head teachers have been forced to put up tents or resolve to learning under trees in order to continue with their daily classes. It gets worse for boarding schools. Where are these students supposed to sleep? Some schools resorted to turning the dining hall into dormitory to help curb the large numbers. All this is before we take into account learning resources such as laboratories (and the necessary equipment), libraries, toilets and bathrooms. According to both the Ministry of Education and the Teachers Service Commission, a single stream school should have a total of at least nine teachers while any double stream school should have at least eighteen teachers. This number is against the ratio of each class having a capacity of 40 students (per stream). Most schools however have not received any new teachers and are at an all-time low number as compared to the number of students. This means one of two things; either teachers have to miss classes to be able to put up with the piling paper work or teachers will alternatively not be up-to date with their paperwork in terms of issuing and checking assignments.

Funds- As far as funds go, apart from Free Primary Education, the government had introduced Free Secondary Education where in day schools, parents are only meant to pay 3000 Kenya shillings per month to cater for their children’s meals while in school. The government, through the National Education Management Information System (NEMIS) henceforth, monitors the number of students enrolled in a school and is meant to pay a certain amount for each student, per term. However, in 2018, most schools failed to receive their funds or received much less than what was supposed to be received.  In Mumias West, one Head teacher said that by using the NEMIS, the government has locked out a number of students by giving a deadline while at the same time requiring 100 percent transition. In his case, he received funds for only 300 students while his school has a capacity of 506 students. How then is the school supposed to fill in for the remaining number of students? In other cases, some students who were called to boarding schools but could not afford to join the schools ended up joining day schools. Their money, however, was not diverted to the day schools that they joined. A lot of schools have resorted to finding other ways to have parents pay one way or the other. In one school during the admission, parents were asked to pay money for Guidance and Counselling. Yes, G and C, which is basically a requirement for each school. Assuming a school admits 800 students, that 8000 shillings that has been received from one admission. In other schools, the admission team liaised with uniform shops and bought the school uniforms from them and later sold to the parents at a slightly higher price. That is only but a few instances of what is going on in most schools. Education is free, but resources are few and erroneous, teachers are fewer and classroom barely enough. The government is rarely on time sending money while parents are also very reluctant to pay fees terming “free education” for all. The textbooks that are sent are very shallow and the teachers are overloaded. Maybe it’s time we relooked the whole policy, this time with the reality of what is actually happening in our schools.

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