EDUCATION

Moi’s schools legacy and how to beat tree ‘classrooms’

It has become normal for sections of the population to see the challenges facing schools since reopening as CS Magoha’s fault

In Summary

• Moi expanded the horizon for the education of girls, creating the beautiful phenomenon where there were schools named “Moi Girls” 

• This changed the academic map tremendously from mostly schools built by churches and colonialists, to new ones that absorbed increasing numbers of learners.

Grade 4 pupils of Lodwar Mixed Primary sit under an acacia tree to observe social distancing and prevent the spread of Covid-19.
NATURE'S CANOPY: Grade 4 pupils of Lodwar Mixed Primary sit under an acacia tree to observe social distancing and prevent the spread of Covid-19.
Image: HESBORN ETYANG

Education Cabinet Secretary George Magoha has the toughest job in this land today.

He is expected to be a national parent for over 10 million children, guarantee their safety, address their health concerns, be the counsellor to the their anxious parents, act as quality inspector for their new desks, beat the syllabus deadline, act as weatherman over their tree-classrooms and still find time to praise the wisdom of his boss, the President.

It is hard to imagine how he catches any sleep.

And as if it couldn’t get any worse, the rains arrived last week, meaning the trees he had been praising as not just perfect providers for learning shades, but also a fantastic supply of oxygen for the learners, lost their hallowed place as facilitators of social distancing in schools. Those who have made it in life like to point out how they walked miles upon miles, barefoot, to school, and learned in the most difficult circumstances. So from the onset, the concept of a difficult school environment has been here with us for a long time.

But many of us who grew up under President Daniel Moi will remember the massive wave of fundraisers to build schools that were conducted under his reign. At some point, there were schools simply known as “harambee schools” coming up in nearly every sub-location in the country. Whatever one may fault the late President for, one thing for sure was that he loved education and went out of his way to build schools all over the country. This is especially so for girls’ schools.

In a big way, Moi expanded the horizon for the education of girls, creating the beautiful phenomenon where there were schools named “Moi Girls” in every corner of the country. I am surprised that this is a conversation we rarely have, because with this shot in the arm for girl child education, Moi empowered the modern Kenyan woman in a way no one else did.

This changed the academic map tremendously from mostly schools built by churches and colonialists, to new ones that absorbed increasing numbers of learners. Indeed, some of the private schools associated with Moisuch as Sacho, Sunshine and Moi Educational Centre remain some of the best run schools in the country, a legacy that you cannot deny Moi.

You would have imagined that the Narc folks who initiated free primary education in 2003 would have built on this momentum to secure learning space for children in schools. Millions of children arrived in school that January to infrastructure that in some instances had been built for a quarter of that number.

The Covid-19 pandemic may look like a convenient excuse for the shortage of facilities in schools, but it is simply the eye opener to a long ignored catastrophe. School enrolment continues to shoot up, but the infrastructure remains largely where Moi left it.

In Kenya’s sanctimonious manner of public discourse, it has become normal for sections of the population to see the challenges facing schools since reopening as CS Magoha’s fault, as if he was meant to have built enough classrooms in the nine months schools were closed.

It doesn’t help that Magoha’s arrogant mien makes him a good punching bag for public frustration, even when he is right.

His problems are compounded by the collapse of several private schools, whose learners now need space in public schools. This makes me wonder if it is really sustainable for private sector players to run schools purely as a business, or whether the Ministry of Education has regulatory frameworks or rescue plans to protect parents in this scenario.

Early private school players such as the great Eddah Gachukia and Moi were mostly education professionals, who brought with them a passion for education and undying commitment to success, despite the bottomline. But in the chaos that the sector has undergone, a grocery shop will get a fresh coat of paint, and become an “academy” with a fancy name the next day. It used to be that private schools filled a management and quality gap left by public institutions. The pandemic has exposed the soft underbelly of this myth. The worry must be that it may be the effects of the closure occasioned by the pandemic now, but it could be something much worse in future.

Beyond classrooms, trees and a delicate curriculum transition, education sector stakeholders must seriously ask themselves if we are doing enough to safeguard the future and interest of these learners, who form nearly a third of the population.

I have encountered intriguing debates on social media over what really is the solution to wanting infrastructure in schools. In some cases, it has been rightfully pointed out that alumni of these schools and local communities are not giving back to society, and are leaving the whole burden to government.

This is why I remain a strong advocate for the Moi model, where school harambees were the weekend fad. But even with that, we must question whether the product delivered in these facilities is good enough for posterity.

In the last year or so, there have been conflicting media reports over how education experts in government intend to handle the new competence based curriculum.

Just recently, the discussion moved to what mechanisms would be used to place learners in high school, in a country where we all want our children to end up in one of just three best schools, so that we can flaunt the indomitable academic gene in our DNA.

Every time this conversation resurfaces, you get the impression that the sector is running on autopilot, with everyone hoping that the Holy Spirit will provide a way. Be that as it may, the problems in the sector are far greater than just classrooms, trees and social distancing, and will outlive Magoha in the ministry. Like in many sectors in Kenya, you have an ancient infrastructural base and philosophy in school, and a modern learner competing in a global village. Magoha may be the convenient punching bag for now, but you can replace him with anyone on the planet, and the problems will keep piling up. There is no easy way out.