How thirst for free milk kept learners in school

Former assistant minister Julia Ojiambo when she condoled with late President Daniel arap Moi at his Kabarnet gardens residence in Nairobi. [David Gichuru, Standard]

When President Daniel arap Moi made the directive that all pupils be offered milk at school in a Cabinet sitting in 1979, Julia Ojiambo was well aware of the task that lay ahead. 

She had just been appointed Assistant Minister for Education, having moved from the Ministry of Housing and Social Services, where she served in the same capacity under President Jomo Kenyatta.

Prof Ojiambo was to head the Basic Education docket, in which the free milk programme, popularly known as maziwa ya Nyayo, fell. The school-feeding project was to serve as an incentive to children to enroll in schools.

President Moi had been concerned about the soaring number of children who were out of school and after several inquiries, the ministry established the cause for the low enrollment.

The ministry then formulated an action plan for the implementation of the programme that would form an integral piece of the former president’s legacy and officially roll it out in 1979.

Strtegic choice

According to Ojiambo, the choice of milk was strategic, as it primarily targeted children aged between five and seven, who were ripe for primary school, but with emphasis placed on improving their health.

“Some of them came from homes that could not provide any meals. Others were malnourished and their parents opted to keep them home as they were afraid they would not get food in school,” she says.

The initiative, she says, registered great success and soon there was a surge in school enrollment, as children had something to look forward to in their pursuit for education.

Ojiambo was also instrumental in the shift from the colonial system of education to the 8-4-4 one, a move that the government had hoped would improve education standards.

President Moi, by her account, had been concerned that the British system had locked many Kenyans out of a formal education, and was not alive to their needs. Hence, a more accommodating education structure had to be formulated to align with such needs.

“Moi saw the need to expand opportunities for Standard Seven drop-outs so that even those who did not make it to secondary school could engage in productive activities,” she recalls.

This was made possible by the construction of vocational training centres and polytechnics to cater for the ballooning number of those thirsty for education. These were meant to equip them with technical skills that would help them better navigate life through offering sustainable livelihoods.

Ojiambo remembers Moi as a champion for education who came up with policies that would revolutionise the Education sector and that eventually spawned the numerous institutions in place right now.

In the years she served in the Education docket, Ojiambo attributes their success to the watchful eye of President Moi, who took a keen interest in the undertakings of all ministries.