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Teachers want Sh41 billion per year to salvage free learning

BUSINESS
By | October 5th 2010

By Patrick Beja

Funding for free primary education (FPE) will need to rise sharply to prevent a total collapse of what is frequently touted as the Government’s biggest social achievement since 2003.

Primary school head teachers meeting in Mombasa are unanimous that poor funding has paralysed FPE, and schools starved of cash are unable support critical extracurricular activities for pupils. The proposed 446 per cent increase would, therefore, push the FPE budget to Sh41 billion a year, up from the Sh9.2 billion allocated by Finance minister Uhuru Kenyatta in his June budget.

Some of the 15,000 school heads attending the Kenya Primary Schools Headteachers Association annual conference at Sheikh Sayed Hall, Mombasa, Monday, sample books for sale. [PHOTOs: Omondi Onyango/STANDARD]

The school heads have recommended that Government funding per child be increased to Sh5,000, up from Sh1,020 per year, to raise the quality of teaching and save FPE.

According to the Kenya 2009 Population and Housing Census, there are 9.42 million children in primary schools. Of these, an estimated 8.2 million are enrolled in public schools that qualify for FPE funding.

However, the head teachers believe this will be money well spent, and have proposed that at least 50 per cent of the increased funds to be distributed to schools in the first term, 30 per cent in the second term and 20 per cent in the third term to ensure smooth running of programmes.

Kenya Primary Schools Headteachers Association (Kepsha) national chairman, Mr Joseph Karuga said they had made their recommendations to the Government for increased funding, but were yet to get a response.

As a result, he said they could not fund the preparation for examinations to ensure quality assurance, pay some staff, finance drama, music and other sport activities in the schools.

"Most activities have come to a standstill in our schools because we lack the funds. The inflation rate is very high," Kepsha general secretary, Mr William Mukoya explained.

They were speaking during the second day of Kepsha’s Sixth Annual Delegates Conference at Sheikh Zayed hall in Mombasa.

Up to 15,000 head teachers from across the country are attending the conference.

The Government introduced FPE in 2003, and the enrolment shot up from five million pupils to 8.2 million currently, causing a major strain on resources.

Child-friendly

However, the school heads said they were happy the Government had agreed to change the timing in releasing the FPE funds from the financial year to calendar year to address delays.

"The funds used to reach us during school holidays and we had problems running the schools without money," Karuga observed.

At the same time, the teachers urged parents to take interests in schools and help improve the environment.

According to Karuga, parents misunderstood the introduction of FPE, as they left the institutions entirely to the Government.

"FPE has been misunderstood by the communities. They still have a role to play in improving the schools. We are inviting them back to ensure Child-Friendly Schools in the country," Karuga said.

He said teachers were being trained on managing Child-Friendly Schools (CFS), adding that they have the capacity to improve the institutions in line with provisions of the new Constitution.

The officials warned Government not to prioritise science subjects at the expense of arts disciplines.

"We have to strike a balance so that we don’t create a shortage in arts subjects, particularly in secondary schools. Arts subjects are still important and should not be neglected," Mukoya said.

Higher Education minister William Ruto recently said public universities would prioritise subjects that conform to the Vision 2030 programme.

Karuga said Kepsha was not worried by the Teachers Service Commission’s (TSC’s) decision to licence teachers.

"Legally, a teacher has to be licenced so as to teach in this country. However, we will seek clarification on the latest proposal," Karuga said.

Mr Mark Matunga, regional manager at the Microsoft company, said they had signed a deal with teachers to promote e-learning.

He said the firm was making laptops available to teachers across the country at low cost, through a check-off system.

difficult concepts

"We have formed a partnership with teachers to ensure ICT becomes a tool of trade for them. This will promote e-learning in the country," Matunga said.

Addressing the same meeting, Kenya Institute of Education (KIE) director Lydia Nzomo asked the head teachers to adopt low-cost resources for learning. She said instructional materials are not adequate, hence the need for innovation.

"Consequently, there is demand for more innovative approaches of producing low-cost learning resources with the parameters of appropriate language, equity, gender, diversity of social and cultural background of learners and their abilities reflected," said Nzomo.

The KIE head said this would enhance the teaching of difficult concepts using improvised aids that pupils can identify with.

Nzomo noted that Child-Friendly Schools had shown that production of teaching and learning resources at primary school level is possible.

The model, she noted, could be replicated to ensure adequacy, affordability and relevance of teaching and learning resources, noting that it advocates an interactive learner-centred approach.

"Teachers have to be competent in delivering content, according to the developmental level of the learner and their abilities," said Nzomo.

Nzomo noted that sadly, out of school violence and attacks carried out by students had shaken the image of schools as reliable, safe and secure environments.

"Efforts to help schools across the nation reduce school violence and create safe climates for learning is a major concern," she noted.

Nzomo called for a paradigm shift from mere assessment of learning that was currently emphasised, to authentic assessment.

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