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The trouble with Africa
Who will cry for the poor in Kenya?
The Kenyan Minister for education has today released the results for last year’s Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education examinations results. As usual the results were met with mixed reactions from the students who sat the exams. Those who passed rejoiced as usual being carried sky-high by students from their former schools while many just kept quiet and wished the day did not come. Sadly, the same regrets that ministers have made and given stern warnings about – cheating in exams, et al- were the same this time round too. Even sadder, so many students, over 65,000 qualified to join public universities but sadly our universities can only admit about 12,000 students. God! What happens to the rest?
Mine is a reality check on the education system in Kenya. Several truths bring themselves to the fore and are indisputable. First, as school enrollment has increased of course in line with population growth there has been no effort to increase the carrying capacity of educational institutions. Secondly, the government attempted to solve this problem by liberalizing the education sector. However, the result has been the commercialization of the sector to dangerous levels. Indeed as Dr. P L O Lumumba notes, this is indicative of a country that is obsessed with the mere possession of certificates with scant regard for the quality of the education being certified. Thirdly, the alienation of the poor has increased dramatically and the reverse is true of social mobility. The government pays lips to the so-called reduction of the gap between the rich and the poor otherwise known as the alleviation of poverty.
Having experienced considerable social hardship in my earlier years, I was lucky to be admitted to one of the leading schools in Kenya on full scholarship. I got world-class education alongside many other students who were bright but their parents could never have afforded to pay for their Secondary school education. This school stood as a source of calm in the midst of chaos towards the east of Nairobi. The school is Starehe Boys’ Centre. The founders of the institution believed in the empowerment of bright but otherwise disadvantaged boys. They focused on the character formation and the restoration of dignity in these boys whose earlier live had eroded every last bit of it. Dr. Griffin and his friends Geturo and Gikubu, knew that if they made the boys believe in themselves, educate them on a holistic approach by building character and providing a conducive environment, the end product would be unmatched and unbeatable. Their mission has been accomplished. The school has managed to break the shackles of poverty and produced many a leader in the Kenyan political, social and business front amongst others. Nevertheless, the school has only managed to produce 12,000 graduates since its establishment in 1959. No mean achievement for the dreams of three men but a mere drop in the ocean for a country as desperately in need of good leadership and human resource as Kenya. The question must then be asked again. God Almighty! What happens to the rest?
There are approximately 4,000 secondary schools in Kenya. Only 17 of which are national. National because they can and indeed must admit students from all districts in the country. Starehe is just one of those. Then there are high cost private schools, provincial schools, district schools, low-cost private schools and public day schools. Of the 12,000 places at the university, national and high cost private schools take the lion share followed by the provincial schools. Very few students, if any, come from the other categories of schools.
To fully understand the problem of the poor, we have to go back one more step; primary level. There are very many primary schools in Kenya most of which are poorly managed public schools like the one I went to. We were lucky to have 13 teachers including the head-teacher with a population of 700 pupils; some schools weren’t as lucky! At the end of 8 years in primary school there are over almost a million children who sit the Kenya Certificate of Primary Education examinations only about 400,000 get places in secondary school. The places are very competitive. Consequently, the most coveted places in national and provincial schools are taken mainly by students from private schools/ academies; they usually score higher marks. They have more teachers, text books, assured decent meals amongst other things. Further, since most of these schools are boarding schools, the kids literally live on their books; they are thoroughly drilled and prepared for the exams. Children from public schools get few places. The poor people are left out once again. But then again, the children of the politicians and other policy makers go to private schools. Why would they bother to fix the problem? They would probably ask what problem? Of course, it then follows those from the rich families who do not get admitted to the best public schools are admitted to top private schools. These same people will get admissions to the university.
Who will cry for the poor? Their eyes have run dry and their voices hoarse yet no one hears them.