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The Sh15b cost of closing schools over elections

By - | Published Sun, February 3rd 2013 at 00:00, Updated February 2nd 2013 at 21:47 GMT +3
Delayed Form One results and the pending General Election are going to affect the
school timetable.[PHOTOS: FILE/STANDARD]

By Juma Kwayera

KENYA: The educational sector faces turbulent times following revelations that schools will once again lose about a month in first term to pave way for elections.

Education experts estimate the disruption will cost the taxpayer Sh15 billion or more.

The impact of the polls on education calendar may even be greater because the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) is expected to hire teachers, who will have to withdraw services to be trained in time to handle the polls as returning officers, presiding officers or clerks.

Despite assurances by Education minister Mutula Kilonzo that education programmes remain on course, teachers and stakeholders are raising the red-flag that parents should be ready for the long-haul as elections could overshoot the timelines set by the electoral body, which plans for a re-run on April 10, if there will be no clear winner in the first round of the presidential poll.

Traditionally, Kenya holds elections when schools are not in session. The disruption, which is set to affect adversely Form One intake, comes barely three months after teachers’ strike that paralysed public schools, as the Ministry of Education and the Kenya National Union of Teachers (Knut) batted over an industrial dispute that took three weeks to settle.

Knut chairman Wilson Sossion warns the disruption of education because of elections will surpass implications of the strike in terms of opportunity costs and monetarily.

Mr Sossion explains that the failure by Government to shield public schools from unmitigated interruption is a heavy financial burden to parents as the political elite gravitate towards private schools, which results in children who attend public schools becoming uncompetitive when it comes to placement in next segment of education.

Collection of trophies

“The institutions that were affected most by the teachers’ strike are public schools. Education programmes will again be affected in public schools because the same institutions will be used as polling centres. The impact shows in the KCPE examinations as there was a drop is scores for children in public schools. When we went to Kenya National Examinations Council headquarters for exam results, we went to celebrate the success of private schools and condemn public schools,” Sossion, who represents 240,000 unionisable teachers, laments.

Recently schools were closed for two days to pave way for political parties nominations.

Sossion agrees that whenever there is disruption in the education calendar, the country never appreciates the hidden costs that are never receipted such as bus-fare, pocket money and service delivery.

According to the Ministry of Education, enrolment in secondary schools stands at 3.6 million students, out of which more than three-quarters are in boarding schools, hence will need contingency money, besides bus-fare to travel back to their homes during elections. Parents with children in primary boarding schools will have to cough up more funds as a result of the interruption by elections.

A conservative estimate puts the minimum average each student in secondary school will require at Sh500 for a round-trip ticket. This translates to more than 2.7 million students in secondary school alone incurring over Sh1.5 billion in total while primary school pupils Sh2 billion, which cost is passed to parents.

Against this backdrop, Prof Ruth Oniong’o says the political set up in the country is such that nobody cares about the poor taxpayer. Oniang’o blames the disruption of school programmes on entrenched corruption in politics.

 “Nobody worries about the poor taxpayer. What we are seeing is a race to the taxpayers’ money and that is why education is secondary to political interests. Corruption consumes more than what the elite are willing to spend on quality education,” says Oniang’o, an education research specialist and lecturer at the Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology.

The taxpayer will still have to shoulder the burden of paying salaries for approximately 260,000 teachers in public schools who will be idle during the election period. On average, a Kenyan teacher earns Sh1,000 daily. For the ten or so days they will be out of class the economy will waste approximately Sh2.8 billion, according to chairman of the Kenya Secondary Schools Heads Association John Awiti.

Mr Awiti says the disruption of education in public schools reflects the class contradiction in Kenya, where the poor pay the price of keeping the political elite in good humour.

“Parents have paid fees and expect their children to be learning. It is evident Form One intake will be delayed. They will be in school for only three weeks before they go back home for the Easter break. Nobody takes into consideration that term dates remain the same for public schools – 39 weeks,” says Awiti, the principal of St Mary’s School Yala, Nyanza.

Already the Standard Eight pupils and Form Four candidates who sat the examinations in the aftermath of a debilitating three-week teachers’ strike are wearing the tag of “victims of transition” politics after Parliament failed to pass necessary legislation to allow the polls to be held in December 17 when schools were on recess, as had earlier been suggested by IEBC.

Kenya Institute of Public Policy and Research Analysis CEO Eric Aligula acknowledges challenges the disruption of education calendar causes but argues that lost time can be bridged because the polls are a one-off event.

“The heavy cost is a reflection of our socio-political culture. No one wants to do things within a prescribed timelines. There were timelines prescribed for legislation. There were timelines for elections in the Constitution that were not followed,” he says.

He adds, “Overall, the timing of the elections has not a had major impact on education, unless it becomes persistent. When you look at the whole scenario from a cost-benefit analysis perspective, we would rather hold elections when schools are not in session because of the unpredictable nature of voter behaviour.”

Owing to chaos witnessed in the last six months in the education sector, Oniang’o now wants a complete overhaul of the same to make it more affordable and accessible while at the same time entrench professionalism at service delivery level.

It is a view shared by Awiti, who says the State was trampling on the rights of children who have no say on public affairs.

“Politicians are concerned about election final results, not the quality of education. Out of selfishness they laugh the poor, whose rights they violate. The children of the rich will not be affected by disruption of school programmes as they are not affected directly,” points out Awiti.

Oniang’o reckons the predication of education on politics is a major source of wastage that has to be addressed urgently to give the former the image of sanctity.

“We should not have had the teachers’ strike because we are looking to change our education sector. The challenge is that the children are getting caught up in the transition, which to them will remain the biggest challenge they will remember in their lives,” explains the don, who served as shadow education minister in the Ninth Parliament.