In 2003, the Kenyan government introduced Free Primary Education (FPE) for all. Since its inception, the number of students attending primary schools has significantly increased. Statistical indicators show that the FPE initiative has brought some positive changes, but it is still beyond the reach of many Kenyan families to get a child through primary school.
The FPE program provides children with staffed public schools to attend as well as learning materials. However, it does not supply them with a uniform, food, or transport to school. These costs are to be paid by the student’s parents, many of whom live in the people’s settlements (slums) and make less than a dollar per day. Therefore, they cannot afford to send them to public school.
Olympic Primary is a public school in Kibera.
Though the Kenyan government has increased funding to the education sector (to 17% of the national budget), it is beyond the scope of the budget to provide free primary education to all. Many international donors were assisting the government in supporting the initiative, but in 2009 an audit revealed that 1 million USD in grant money was missing and 26 million USD had been diverted from the education fund. Due to this incident, many international agencies (World Bank, Canada, UK and USAID) have suspended funding.
Although free primary education has provided children from the poorer areas of society with hope, it has also created significant problems. Rapid expansion of enrollment has drastically increased the student to teacher ratio, causing the quality of education to suffer. Statistics have shown that although there is an increase in the number of students taking the exam to get their Certificate of Primary Education the percentage of students that pass the exam has decreased.
As a result of the poor quality of education the number of private schools in Kenya is almost 10 times greater than before the FPE initiative started. Many people who would normally send their children to public schools have been forced towards private schools because of overcrowding. Private schools in Kenya are no longer just for the rich. There are now private schools catering toward people of all social and economic backgrounds.
Informal School in Kibera
In the people’s settlements many families send their children to private informal schools funded by NGOs (Non-Governmental Organizations). These informal schools provide children who cannot afford to buy uniforms or pay for transport to a public school a place to learn. Most of these informal schools don’t have electricity, running water, or sanitary bathrooms, but at least the children are given a chance to learn.
To improve education in the people’s settlements of Nairobi, NPSN (Nairobi People’s Settlement Network), with the help of Hakijamii, has brought together educational groups from each of the 8 constituencies (districts). These groups come together to discuss ways to provide a better education for their children.
In June 2010 NPSN held Education Accountability meetings in each of the 8 constituencies, where members of the communities, teachers, and government officials came together to discuss the state of education in the settlements. Government officials explained the application process for funds allocated for poor and disadvantaged youth. After, members of the community asked questions directly to the officials and made suggestions for improvement of the process. With these sessions community members hope that the government will listen and utilize their suggestions. A member of NPSN said that before the network was formed it was impossible for the community to have a conversation with a government official. Now that they have unified government officials will take the time to come and listen to their ideas.
Starehe District Education Officer Mr. J. Muchiri Ndung'u. One of the government officials attending the Education Accountability Meeting.
The problems with FPE in Kenya are many, but the initiative is a step in the right direction. There needs to be an unbiased private firm doing the monitoring and evaluations to combat corruption and ensure that allocated funds go to free primary education. The government also needs to maintain a dialogue with groups at the grassroots level to better be able to meet the needs of the common Kenyan. If they manage to do these things I am hopeful that someday there will be free primary education for all.
Author: Louis Rezac first posted on his Advocacy Project Blog