Educating children should not be so painful

Standard Four pupils of Cheptuyet Primary School in Muhoroni, Kisumu County. [Collins Oduor, Standard]

To some Kenyans, not paying school fees for their children is not an issue. However, a larger percentage of Kenyans, majority of whom hardly manage a balanced diet, sweat to pay school fees. Things get worse when a child goes to university.

Two cases in the past few weeks have had me worried about what awaits some families when their children get to university.

I was subscribed to a WhatsApp group – without my consent – aiming to raise over Sh100,000 to pay school fees for a Fourth Year medical student.

The student has missed several classes on account of failure to raise the must-pay fees for his education. It has been over a month since the WhatsApp fundraiser appeal was put up. Clearly, Kenyans love education.

The contributions began with small donations. The beneficiary is still praying and making desperate appeals to enable him hit his target so he can return to class.

The achievement of his dream will eventually cut down the medical staff deficit Kenya faces.

The second case involves a woman who sought me out last week. Reason? Her firstborn son is about to complete an undergraduate programme.

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She has three semesters left to pay fees. The woman believes she has a shorter mileage to cover now that she has laboured to raise fees for her two sons in university and one has “only three semesters to go”.

Secure work

But the three semesters will not be a short journey for the woman. She has sold everything she could and has even leasedout her piece of land for 20 years.

She has taken loans from every possible lender she can access. She has fasted just to spare Sh100 boda boda fare for her sons. There is simply no light at the end of the tunnel.

Well, the sons, who are young and vulnerable to many social shocks, could be out of class for a while.

They have no opportunities to secure work, earn and pay their school fees. Drug lords are all over, luring youngsters from poor backgrounds. The push and pull factors to crime, as a means of survival, are many and real.

The woman stares at the possibility of seeing her efforts sink, given the reality of Kenya’s economic stagnation.

The two cases, like many others, bring out the contradictions and systemic failures in the governance of our education system.

Must poor parents sell their inheritance to educate children? Must the poor dehumanise themselves by paying less attention to themselves in order to educate their children?

Performing schools

Down the line, what is the value for money in an investment that does not promise returns, given the high rate of unemployment in Kenya?

Investing in education is the best gift parents can give their children. Those who have been blessed with resources take their children to good and performing schools.

Yet even those who have minimal resources do the much they can to take their children to schools within their meagre means.

When students miss lectures for lack of fees, the consequences become dire.

If, for example, the young medical student graduates and secures a job, there is no guarantee he will not carry out an operation on a patient’s left leg instead of the left arm.

If this happens and is discovered, no one will remember the challenges he went through to educate himself. He will be punished for such lapses.

There is need for the Government to show a human face and save both parents and students from self-destruction.

Poor families go all the way to sell their small pieces of land, their one or two animals, take loans they struggle to pay and use all manner of unethical initiatives, including turning to ‘saviour politicians’ and rich people to ensure children are educated.

What future do such families have? These families are victims of discriminatory social systems.

I do not know whether the Higher Education Loans Board has sufficient resources to support disadvantaged students, but the cry out there is too loud to be ignored.

It is only that fair poor families are supported not to sink as a result of the noble goal of educating children, but rise to enjoy a relatively decent life if that is all they have to live for.

Dr Mokua is Executive Director – Jesuit Hakimani Centre

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