Why private schools cannot solve public education problems in Kenya

Kakamega Primary School head teacher Dickson Wanyangu gives last KCPE instructions to his candidates at the institution on October 29, 2018.[Benjamin Sakwa, Standard]

The Cabinet Secretary for Education, Prof George Magoha, made the most outrageous statement on Form One admissions this week.

If I paraphrase, it was something to the effect that those who have had their children in private primary schools should follow the same private school route for Form One admissions as he seemed to order private schools to build Junior Secondary schools to admit their candidates when they transit from primary school.

To put this into perspective, we need to understand one thing, but in two parts; first is that President Uhuru Kenyatta swore to uphold and protect the Constitution, which has a Bill of Rights – education being a cardinal one.

Two, that under the same Constitution, the President goes ahead to appoint Cabinet Secretaries to help him in running the government, upholding the Constitution and safeguarding the realisation of the Bill of Rights.

The Cabinet Secretary safeguards the realisation of the right to education through instruments put in place under the Education Act where he has to ensure quality, equity and fairness in access to education, technically for lifelong learning.

He is, therefore, the only official with that mandate and he cannot, under whatever conditions, pass the buck to private investors.

It is the government’s role to provide education. Private investors have taken up nearly 30 per cent of the provision of basic education, not because parents in Kenya fancy such schools, but because the Ministry of Education has no growth plan for the sector.

Private investors come into play, in our case, because successive governments have failed to generate a blueprint for the sector and where one grey area exists, the requisite resources are not made available and where they are, they are squandered through bureaucratic capture and wastefulness.

It is on record that during the reign of the Jubilee administration, education has not been given priority, hence the bungling of education reforms (and the attendant CBC whose head or tail the Cabinet Secretary cannot identify) and the outright failure to have education as the fulcrum upon which the Big Four agenda rotates.

The biggest let down within this window of administration has been the blatant wastefulness through the stillbirth that was the laptop project, the use of public resources to muzzle teacher unions, increase in administration bureaucracy and issuance of roadside declarations that make the late Education minister, Joseph Kamotho, look like a saint.

Now that the campaign period is here, it may be time to ask presidential hopefuls tough questions on education. And they should not just end with promises but elucidate the key elements of their education plans and how they plan to realise them.

Education is supposed to be the ultimate equaliser but if we continue offering it the way we are doing now, I am afraid we shall not have a sector worth talking about in a few years.

The start of the new school year to end in December and the start of 2023 academic year are going to be defining moments in the education sector.

One wrong turn and we face an impending collapse of the public basic education sector if the Cabinet Secretary does not change his approach.

The double intakes and transitions are like the straw that will break the camel’s back or the whirlwind that shall expose our nakedness and shallowness in planning.

We cannot continue gambling with the lives of our children by playing Russian Roulette with their education.