The government of Kenya in 2003 implemented the free primary education with the intention of providing opportunities to disadvantaged children. The policy abolished school fees and other school related charges which posed as a deterrent to children wanting to access education in schools. This was a noble policy as its effects are seen by an increase in the gross enrolmentratio of students in the primary schools over the years. This is the total enrolment in primary education, regardless of age, expressed as a percentage of the eligible official primary school age population in a given school year.
The goal of the FPE policy is to provide access to primary education to all Kenyans, regardless of age. Thepolicy targets the underprivileged populations who can hardly afford a meal on their table. These populaces mostly live in the slum areas where living conditions are very poor. Mostly, they live in aone room iron sheet structure which serves as their living room, bedroom and kitchen. They hardly have access to basic government services such as water, sanitation or even electricity. In addition, living space is limited, food is scarce and there is no proper sanitation. The bread winners are usually casual workers, who depend on luck to get their next pay.Therefore, the implementation FPE policy was a light at the end of the tunnel for these underprivileged families. The children and even adults could now get some education to improve their literacy levels. Hopefully, this was also meant to improve their living conditions. As a result, millions of children joined primary schools in their localities.
Recently, in June 2016, the education cabinet secretary Fred Matiang’i said that the government had pumped close to Ksh 300 billion in free primary education. This was to be utilised by the various primary and secondary schools to ensure there is adequate learning materials and improved facilities to guarantee the Kenyan children have quality education. However, despite the good intention by the government to provide quality education, a number of challenges still delimit the implementation of the FPE policy in Kenya. These include, interalia, shortages of teachers and limited physical facilities. As a result, the quality of teaching has deteriorated and indiscipline in schools has reached rocket high.
In particular, most of the schools in the slum areas of Nairobi lack proper facilities to cater for the numerous students enrolled in the schools. Recently, the CS for education Mr. Fred Matiang’i random unannounced school visits has revealed that facilities in most schools are run down and headteachers have been unable to justify what certain amounts of money recorded in books of account have been used for. In one of the schools, during Matiang’i random visits, the head teacher talks of Ksh.10 million used for painting. Clearly, there is mismanagement of funds at the school level contributing to the poor infrastructures and facilities in the schools. As a result, there are more pupils than the classrooms can hold. Thepupils are too many to even concentrate in class or comprehend what the teacher is introducing in class. Further, textbooks and learning materials in these schools are limited, thus contributing to poor performance in the schools. In addition, the toilets in the schools are very few, which are meant to cater for over 1000 students in the school. These have posed a health hazards to the students and teachers. The consequences of these inadequate facilities in the school include: congestion in classes, spread of diseases due to poor sanitation, poor hygiene, lack of individual focus on students by the teachers, poor concentration in class, breeding ground for social vices such as violence, gangs, sexual immorality, early pregnancies and even drug abuse which is very rampant in the primary schools in slum areas. Matiangi says that there is a need to increase infrastructure to cater for the increased enrolment in schools in the past few years.
With regard to the issue of shortage of quality teachers, the 2014 basic education statistical booklet says that the ratio of government employed teachers to students is within an acceptable range. The study shows that there are about 201,622 teachers employed by the teacher service commission. According to the study the problem lies with the distribution of the teachers across the countryranging from high pupil to teacher ratio of 101:3 in Turkana to a low of 25:4 in Baringo.The high pupil to teacher ratio, in my view, is also experienced in the slum areas of Nairobi. In most slum schools the pupil to teacher ratio is about 80:1. As a result, teachers are overworked, underpaid, they do not concentrate on the individual academic needs of the students; they are demotivated and as a result skip classes. This scenario was evident during Matiang’i random school visit, where he mentioned that what angered him most during the visits was the glaring teacher absenteeism. In the extreme cases, slum schools are forced to look for inexperienced, unqualified volunteer teachers to fill in the gap. All these issues arising from the implementation of the FPE policy have led to extremely poor performance of pupils in the slum areas. Unfortunately, these same poorly performing pupils are competing for the same secondary school spaces at national and county levels.
Therefore, there are four possible solutions to these arising issues. One, the government of Kenya should seek to improve the infrastructures and facilities in the public schools especially in the slum areas. Two, the government should distribute more qualified and quality teachers in the slum schools and compensate them well to adequately motivate them. Three, there should be a guidance and counselling unit in the primary schools, especially in slum areas, to aide and counsel students using drugs, those engaging in sexual immoralities, those in gangs and those who experience hardships in their homes. Four, the government should consider lowering the intake grade into national and county schools for the pupils from underprivileged areas. This will give them a wider chance of joining their dream schools considering their learning environment.
In view of the above, there is need to review the FPE Policy in order to address the above issues arising from its implementation. This will make the FPE policy relevant to the varying implementation environments hence lead to high literacylevel in Kenya, improved economy and lower crime rates.
KENPRO (2010).Challenges Facing the Implementation of Free Primary Education in Kenya. KENPRO Online Papers Portal. Available online at www.kenpro.org/papers.
Daily nation, October 6 2015
This is based on the information gathered by Hatua Kenya. Pamela WangeciGathua is a consultant with Hatua Kenya. See more information about Hatua Kenya at www. Hatua.net.
See KENPRO, 2010.
See also Daily nation, October 6 2015.