'Education for All' dream so near yet so far
By Wachira Kigotho
With about three years to the target date for the ‘Education for All’ initiative and the UN Millennium Development Goals, there are indications most countries, Kenyan included, will not achieve the ambition.
Whereas the key plank of EFA and the MDGs is realisation of universal free primary education, to date more than 40 per cent of the world’s out-of-school children are in sub-Saharan Africa. Though gender gaps have narrowed at primary level, 30 per cent of about 71 million adolescents out of school in the world are in the sub-region and most of them are girls.
Unesco says the trend is likely to worsen given that most countries have started shifting their resources from primary to secondary and tertiary education.
In Kenya, despite increased enrolment rates, many primary school-age children are still out of classroom. Unicef says Kenya has more than a million children of primary school age that are out of school and 40 per cent of them are in arid areas and urban slums.
While announcing last year’s KCPE exam results in December, Education minister Sam Ongeri identified 14 counties with low enrolment for girls. Most of these counties are associated with pastoralist communities, limited economic resources or other factors that are associated with negative aspects that enhance gender disparities in education.
Basically, children living with high levels of poverty are in greatest need of the pre-primary education, which is another objective of the EFA initiative. According to Dr Kevin Watkins, the Director of Unesco’s Education for All programme, prospects for entry, progression and completion of primary school are closely linked to household circumstances. "Children who are poor face higher risks of dropping out," he says.
Retaining all primary school-age children in school is becoming a huge task for the Kenyan Government, taking into account that rate of school dropout has become a major concern. Learning in difficult circumstances — often in open air or leaky classrooms — has made school attendance unattractive and more so to girls.
Whereas constraint to public spending on education is deemed to be the main factor keeping children out of school, child labour, household hunger, unemployment, child stunting, intestinal worm infestation and related health problems are all in intense competition to keeping children out of school.
Kenya has made significant progress in getting more children into primary school, but the path ahead is complex and full of challenges. For instance, enrolment has jumped from 5.9 million in 2002 to 9.4 million in 2010, but the system is stressed in that a large number of pupils in primary are repeaters and are likely to become candidates for dropping out.
The situation is grimmer considering that pre-primary education is still outside the mainstream education system and it is neither free nor compulsory.
In an anticipated study, Global EFA Monitoring Report 2012, Unesco has raised the bar and argues rudimentary literacy is not enough and children require relevant skills to enable them not to revert to illiteracy. The report is expected to chart a roadmap for countries to examine how skills development programmes can improve youth’s opportunities for decent jobs and better lives.
So far Kenya is not one of the world’s worst places for a child to go to school, but critical benchmarks in education are yet to be attained in consonance with EFA and MDGs objectives. Whereas functional literacy is widespread in developed countries, this basic goal has not been attained in Kenya and so many other countries.
That means the Government and schools have their work tailored for them before 2015.
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