Sh6 billion question as Ministry fights ghost learners

Pupils of Tuwo primary in Tiaty sub-county studying under a tree. The school has no class rooms. [Photo by Kipsang Joseph/Standard]

The Government may have been paying billions of shillings to ghost pupils under the free primary education (FPE) project.

Data from the Ministry of Education shows that the current total enrollment of pupils in public primary schools stands at 8.9 million.

But the ongoing registration of students nationwide has only captured the details of 4.9 million children in public primary schools, which is about half the number that the Government has been paying for under the FPE programme.

The Government pays Sh1, 420 per child per year, translating to Sh5.6 billion.

Although challenges with acquiring children' birth certificates, which is mandatory for registering learners in the new National Education Information Management System (Nemis), is partially to blame for those yet to be listed, officials who spoke in confidence said it was unlikely that the entire four million lacked birth certificates.

Public funds

They said the registration exercise could expose the number of ghost pupils through which public funds may have been lost over the years.

Given the four million were listed over two months, questions were raised on how a similar number could be netted in the one month to the opening of schools in May.

There have been claims in the past that head teachers may have inflated student enrollment figures to get more money from FPE.

In case the huge discrepancy between Government figures and registered pupils still remain when the exercise ends, education officials are contemplating an audit to establish which schools are to blame for the irregularity and punish those found culpable.

Statistics released by Education Cabinet Secretary Amina Mohamed show 9.5 million children have been enrolled in both public and private schools.

Of these, 7.6 million are in public secondary and primary schools. Some 4.9 million are in primary school while 2.7 million are in secondary school.

Public schools now have up to April 30 to capture all the pupils' details under the Nemis system, failing which the ministry will withhold the money.

Until the new registration, there were discrepancies in enrollment figures. At one point, data indicated that total enrollment in public primary schools stood at 10 million.

Ministry officials have expressed fears that the enrollment figures could be much lower than anticipated.

Enrollment data seen by The Standard shows Kiambu County is leading among the counties that have registered the highest number of learners under Nemis. The county has so far registered 447,664 students.

It is followed by Nairobi County with 447,370 and Kisii County with 432,444.

Amina said the ministry was impressed with the progress made in uploading the data of learners, teaching and non-teaching staff.

She said the system had accurately registered 68 per cent of learners in primary schools and 98 per cent of learners in secondary schools.

The registration portal was opened in January 28. The first deadline was February 20 but after only 3.8 million students were registered, it was pushed to March 31.

Slowed down

“It has been noted that the process has been slowed down by the fact that most learners were yet to acquire birth certificates that were required for the registration,” Amina said.

Once fully implemented, Nemis is expected to consolidate data from all ministry institutions. It will eliminate ghost learners, teachers and lecturers, forgery of academic certificates, mushrooming of illegal institutions.

Under the system, all learners in public institutions – from nursery to university – will be allocated a six-character Unique Personal Identifier (UPI).

Yesterday, the CS said the registration would continue during the school holidays.

“We encourage schools to continuously accurately update their student and staff data to the Nemis environment,” said Amina.

Last year, Basic Education Principal Secretary Belio Kipsang' faulted school heads for failing to update the students’ enrollment data even after some learners left their institutions.

“We pay fees through capitation and some heads do not update the ministry on those who get transfers or those who exit schools through natural attrition,” the PS said last year.

It emerged that schools heads whose students were transferred, died or dropped out of school continued to receive money under the FPE programme.

Compliance to constantly revise enrollment data will be tested in the next few weeks, when the Nemis registration is closed.

Revise data

“We have asked the heads in both public and primary schools to revise their data so that the ministry is sure to send monies to the real beneficiaries,” Kipsang' said.

Addressing primary school heads in Mombasa last year, the PS said each head would take responsibility for resources sent to them and cautioned that the ministry would not protect anyone.

Kipsang' also told the heads that the monies sent to schools must be accounted for.

The mystery of student enrollment data informed the Government's decision to roll out a strict and tamper-proof education data management information system to be the ultimate record for the education sector.

A Ministry of Education circular released last year said the disbursements of FPE funds would be based strictly on Nemis data.

“Transfer of students should be avoided in the course of the academic year and may only be sanctioned by Director General under special circumstances,’ read the October 19, 2017 circular.

This means that schools risk losing huge amounts of money.