EDUCATION

100% transition at what cost?

Government should put up or ask parents to put up infrastructure, employ adequate staff.

In Summary
  • This government has declared free primary and day secondary education in public institutions but stakeholders will tell you nothing is free.
  • Schools do not have the necessary infrastructure and personnel, including but not limited to classrooms, learning material and teachers.

The idea of a hundred per cent transition from primary to secondary school is noble; every child whatever his/her background is entitled to quality education. That is why the government’s declaration that every child who did his/her KCPE last year must enter a secondary school is commendable.

However this would not be accomplished by threatening headteachers, administration officials and parents, but through proper planning. The President has been quoted saying children would rather study under trees that roam the streets sniffing glue. Well and good, but it’s been raining so hard in the last few months one wonders how anybody would learn or teach under a tree, not forgetting the threat of lightning.

Headteachers have been warned of unspecified punitive measures if they do not take in all the children admitted to their schools even if they got to school like the boy who went to a Meru school with a paper bag containing only his admission letter. Chiefs and their assistants face the sack if any child who did their KCPE last year is not in secondary school by the end of February. Parents face jail terms.

In the meantime, the good Professor Magoha, the man in charge of education and the same man who wants to reduce the number of universities to ensure quality, is carrying out an uncharacteristic door-to-door campaign to ensure the 100 per cent instruction is obeyed. He is to be seen in his immaculate suits and highly buffed shoes, stepping over Kibra’s flying toilets or emerging from a Maasai igloo in search of children to take to school. This is PR at its best (worst?).

While the intention of having every school-going child in school is honourable and a human right, the approach is haphazard and at some point could be counterproductive.

At the time when school fires were rampant, the government emphasis was on safety calling on school heads to ensure the dorms were not jam-packed both for ease of movement in emergency cases and for health reasons. That tune has since changed – cram them in and be damned as long as we get the 100 per cent! So God forbid that any emergency occurs in any of our boarding secondary schools.

This government has declared free primary and day secondary education in public institutions but stakeholders will tell you nothing is free. Schools do not have the necessary infrastructure and personnel, including but not limited to classrooms, learning material and teachers. So even if the children were to study under trees, they may not have learning materials or anybody to teach them, and where they have classrooms, teachers have to contend with classes of 100 children. How does one person, however well trained, cope with such.

But the worst hit are public boarding secondary schools. Even before the government started its journey of 100 per cent transition, most of these schools were overcrowded. Classrooms, laboratories, dining halls, washrooms and dormitories were inadequate. So congested were dormitories in some schools that when fires broke out students were unable to escape resulting in fatalities in some cases. That congestion has increased threefold.

At the time when school fires were rampant, the government emphasis was on safety calling on school heads to ensure the dorms were not jam-packed both for ease of movement in emergency cases and for health reasons. That tune has since changed – cram them in and be damned as long as we get the 100 per cent! So God forbid that any emergency occurs in any of our boarding secondary schools.

That said, no teacher, however, determined, is going to be effective teaching a class of 60 and above. The facilities and staff in these schools are stretched beyond limit and all, including principals, teachers, non-teaching staff and especially students, are struggling to cope. The government is known to delay subsidy disbursement to schools, yet it’s telling principals to admit students without school fees. How do you manage a school and feed students without money?

This government has put the cart before the horse and is expecting miracles in return. It should put up or openly ask parents to put up the necessary infrastructure and employ adequate numbers of teaching and support staff before forcing what now appears like an impractical 100 per cent transition. It might be worth it just to go back to the drawing board and come up with a  realistic plan for the 100 per cent transition.