Globally, according to the Global Education Monitoring (GEM) Report of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) there are at least 264 million children and youth not going to school. One can imagine what amount of human resource is wasted if these children and youth fail to access education.
Imagine also, the amount of resources and concerted efforts required to address this gap.
According to the 2017 Economic Survey, Kenya’s Net Enrollment Rate (NER) for primary schools was at 88.1 per cent in 2012 rising to 89.2 per cent in 2016.
Looking at primary-secondary transition rate, the country recorded 81.3 per cent in the 2016. Though our ratios can be said to be relatively high, we are part of the 264 million global statistics.
The fruits of FPE
We must therefore give credit to the conceptualisation, roll-out and management of the Free Primary Education (FPE) that rolled out in January 2003. One of the key and most impactful results of the introduction of the FPE was an increase in enrollment from 5.9 million children in 2002 to 7.4 million in 2004.
Since 2003, the country has witnessed various reforms in the education sector. The reforms have had their good and bad moments - thanks to our poor record of sustaining reforms. Since 2015, reforms in the sector were reinvigorated.
Classic examples of some of the reforms he initiated and steered are: an overhaul of the curriculum to address the mismatch between the curriculum and the needs of the market; and radical improvement in the conduct of national examinations, a feat that was not easy after long periods of infiltration by exam leakage cartels.
Of course, the reforms have not come in cheap. The gross total expenditure of the education sector has risen from about Sh260.1 billion in 2012/13 financial year to Sh374.9 billion in 2017/18, an increment of 44 per cent- this is 23 per cent of the national budget. Comparatively, in 2017/18, the health sector was allocated 3.8 per cent of the total budget and is expected to rise to 4.1 in both 2018/19 and 2019/20.
Again, Energy, Infrastructure and ICT sectors combined took 25.5 per cent of the budget.
In sum, singularly, the education sector is taking a quarter of the national budget. Yet, the sector needs are even greater. This notwithstanding, the rationale for whatever amount of investment in the sector should be seen in the context of the past and the returns expected from the ongoing reforms.
Certainly, the country’s development aspirations necessitate progressive improvement of our human resource capacity by improving the quality and relevance of the skills of our workforce, and in particular, the youth.
As such, the education sector must effectively deploy strategies that will align with the SDG Number Four that seeks to ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote life-long learning opportunities for all.
Where to put the money
There are many priorities to focus on, but key areas of attention should include: improvement of infrastructure in learning institutions to address existing gaps and ease off the strain on existing facilities; deepening curriculum and examination assessment reforms at all levels; enhancement of grants to improve access to education particularly for the poor; integration of ICT at all levels; promotion of science, technology and innovation; provision of teaching and learning material, especially for the newly rolled-out curriculum; improving and expanding the Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) Colleges with a clear focus on equipping the youth with relevant skills required to transform the labour force; addressing equity issues; and improving governance to minimize misappropriation and wastage of funds.
Kenyans are already enjoying some fruits from the reforms initiated since early 2000, and carry even greater expectations that coherent reforms will be sustained in all levels of education. This way, we can improve our NER, realise effective progression of learners from one level to another and churn out an appropriately skilled labour force that can drive the industrial transformation.
Furthermore, recognising that education underpins all the 17 SDGs, the work of the Ministry of Education needs to be anchored on innovative and integrated planning.
Mr Owalo is a Management Consultant