Education is the most powerful tool that you can use to change the world – Nelson Mandela
In Kenya, despite the government talking about its investment in free secondary education, the public good is becoming a luxury that can’t be afforded by many.
While discussing the dividends of free primary education in Kenya, an argument commonly raised is that free primary education has eroded the quality of education.
It is true that there is a correlation between the introduction of free primary education and a drop in quality standards, but the recommendation provided in the argument was that the government should work with a critical mass of pupils so as to maintain quality standards in public schools.
This is a common policy thinking that bears the hallmark of colonial relic policy thinking. When the colonial government established its system, it needed to integrate Africans within its governance structure, and so, had to identify African elites to place within the administrative State and corporate sector.
Therefore, it rolled out an education policy that targeted extracting the best minds among the African majority by a “sieving-out” education structure.
It was from this that secondary schools were classified in tiers as National, Provincial and District schools, with National schools churning the African elites. This policy no different from racketeering and sometimes one is persuaded that this remains the thinking of government today.
In the last Kenya Certificate of Primary Education (KCPE )exam, more than one million candidates sat the exam but when schools opened this year only 60 percent reported to secondary school, explaining a transition challenge.
According to a 2016 government Education Sector report, secondary schools in the country can only absorb 80 percent of KCPE candidates to Form One due to infrastructure shortages. This means 20 percent of candidates, which is more than 200,000 candidates, must end their education journey at primary level every year because of the government’s poor planning.
Kenya has 8,592 public secondary schools and 1,350 private ones to provide education opportunities to over one million candidates who sit for KCPE exams every year. So, the Ministry of Education talking about targeting 100 percent transition without building more secondary schools is simply deception.
Coming to government subsidising free secondary, it pays schools Sh22,244 for every student whilst the remaining costs to be financed by parents.
For national schools or extra county schools in urban areas, fees are set at Sh75,798 while government subsidy is Sh22,244 per student, meaning parents pay Sh53,533. In county schools, parents pay Sh40,000 after government subsidy and Sh9,374 for day scholars.
Now what does this mean for poor households? It’s estimated that the cost of joining secondary school is about eight times the monthly income of an employed parent, 1,2-17 times of a self-employed parent and 19-20 times of a peasant parent engaged in casual work.
At the same time it is estimated that a quarter of poor households’ income is spent on education, the second item to food on the monthly expense list. So, instead of being financially dragged by the high secondary school costs, candidates from poor households drop out.
Therefore, government needs to look at how to bring down the cost of secondary education down but last month it gave school principals the go ahead to increase school fees on the pretext of supporting infrastructure development.
The CS defended the decision saying infrastructure development is straining the 100 percent transition target oblivious to the fact that; first the specific role of infrastructure development is government’s prerogative which is now passing it to parents, second is that increasing secondary fees is simply raising the barrier to joining secondary even higher meaning transition rate dropping.
The policy position the government is entrenching is that attainment of the level of formal education in this country is a result of wealth of your household, making education a luxury good.