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Free Education for Children in Kenya? A Free Education It's Not

Free Education for Children in Kenya? A Free Education It's Not

When the Kenyan government issued the edict of free education for all children in the country, it didn't consider the cost. Let's check it out in some more detail...
OpinionFront Staff
By Mark Hoerrner

Some parents in the U.S. pay as much as $15,000 per year for a single child to attend private school. In Kenya, the price is closer to $2,000, far out of the reach of most Kenyans who raise families on a couple of dollars a day. Until recently, even public school was costly―$150 a year―and still unattainable for the average family, especially if the family had more than one child. But recently, the Kenyan government, spurred by a trend of education reform in Africa, opened up public education to all children in the country. The result has been a deluge on the system that has left education crippled and in danger of collapse.

Articles in the Associated Press, Reuters, and a multitude of newspapers have praised the change but few estimated what the effects would be. At present, children may attend any local school they choose, but the schools face overcrowding, lack of facilities, lack of supplies, and most importantly, lack of teachers.

"We are trying to keep up with the demand but we're just not turning out teachers fast enough," says Edward Mkombe, a former teacher from Kenya now living in the U.S. "Not enough people are getting to college or have the background to be able to teach. The class sizes in some schools are 100 students for every teacher and growing. Even some of the best schools in Kenya are suffering because they have had to take on so many extra students."

Not unlike the U.S., Kenyan parents complain when asked to spend additional money for public education. Some schools requested as little as 1 cent from each student to help pay for cleaning supplies, and parents rebelled. These supplies were supposed to be free, they said, and asking them for money was an insult. Well an insult, perhaps, but possibly a necessary evil. Most schools are having to make tough choices: buy sanitary supplies or textbooks. And often, the need to present learning material overshadows the more mundane issue of sanitation. Still, the government remains optimistic, and says that it has a plan.

Meanwhile, the schools are seeking creative means to juggle staff and resources to make education more viable. Some schools are shifting teachers from grade to grade to lower class sizes in one grade and increase them in another. Some are offering weekend classes at $4 per month. Test scores from some of the highest-ranked schools are slipping, but most administrators hope that this is a temporary issue.