Make free education a reality to level playing ground for all our children

Nyamachaki Primary School pupils during P.E class, Nyeri, 2021. [Kibata Kihu, Standard]

Were the government to conduct a census on the number of naturally bright children going to waste due to poverty, the figures would astound. Not a day goes by without a learner appealing for help to join secondary school.

The level of destitution in the villages is shocking. Millions of people cannot afford a square meal every day. Treatable ailments are ravaging people because they cannot afford hospital charges. Is it logical then to expect parents in such dire straits to finance the education of their children?

It behooves the government to make education free in the real sense of the word. The government should stop killing the dreams of children by erecting roadblocks on the way to acquiring quality education. President Uhuru Kenyatta is on record saying that Kenya loses Sh2 billion daily to corruption (Sh732 billion annually), which is way above the Sh544 billion budget for the ministry of education

When we inadvertently make education the preserve of the moneyed, we end up breeding mediocrity. That is how we have found ourselves surrounded by half-baked professionals; doctors, architects and engineers whose academic credentials far outmatch their skills. Cases of medical malpractices are on the rise.

In 2019, for instance, Kenya Practitioners Medical and Dentist Board cancelled licences of six doctors, suspended nine and subjected 16 to supervised training. In 10 years, the board has handled thousands of malpractice cases. Cumulatively, renowned hospitals in Nairobi were surcharged Sh106.6 million between May 201 and February 2019 for malpractices.

The frequency of collapsed buildings and peeling roads point to professionals whose hearts and minds are not in what they are doing, perhaps because they were forced into those careers by rich parents purely for prestige.

No wonder then that the government has little or no trust in most of them and outsources doctors, engineers and architects from Asia and Europe for serious jobs.

There are naturally bright learners and those made ‘bright’ by circumstances. As fate would have it, the former come from very poor backgrounds. Many go to school hungry, barefoot and walk long distances to poorly equipped schools in the quest for knowledge and a better future.

Conversely, kids from rich families eat bread, egg and sausages for breakfast. They attend expensive boarding schools or are driven to school. After scoring highly, they choose courses to which they are least attuned. At the end of the day, such individuals occupy high places in society. 

Meanwhile, bright children who could have made amazing engineers, doctors and architects, among other professions, end up frustrated and depressed. The alternative for them is life in crime, indulgence in drug abuse as an escape from the harsh realities of an uncaring world and for girls, early marriages, work as house helps or prostitution.

Many end up pushing wheelbarrows and walk around carrying with them burning anger against a society they unconsciously believe betrayed them. It is little wonder then that suicides caused by depression have gone up by nearly 50 per cent. Between March and June 2020, at least 500 people committed suicide.

The government should make education - the greatest equaliser – truly free, and stop the cycle of poverty that is being unfairly blamed on witchcraft.