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Kiyiapi fought to level education playing field

COMMENTARY
By - | February 6th 2013

By Joe Ombuor

He might not be getting as much limelight as some of the aspirants to State House at the moment, but former Education Permanent Secretary Prof James Ole Kiyiapi will for long remain on Kenyans’ minds for his efforts to level the playing ground in the education of Kenyan children, irrespective of their economic backgrounds.

Deluge of learners

Primary school education provided investors with a lucrative business opportunity after a hastily introduced Free Primary Education (FPE) in 2003 ushered into classrooms a deluge of pupils with not enough teachers and facilities to cope.

Quality was terribly compromised as a result to the extent that once leading public schools were obfuscated.

Olympic Primary School in Kibera is a case in point. Gains in numbers notwithstanding, such was the mess that parents with some financial ability off-loaded their children to the emerging academic leaders christened ‘academies’.

With time, the learning atmosphere in public schools has deteriorated, prompting greater investment in academies, many of which do nothing but drill children for examinations.

Parents with deep pockets have their children literally spoon fed by highly motivated teachers in environments that transform even academic dunderheads to examination champions who mutate into academic dregs at high school.

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It was under Kiyiapi’s watch over matters education that deliberate attempts were made to address the inordinate academic inequality between private and public schools by way of affirmative action that enabled candidates from poor backgrounds get admission into some of the country’s top secondary schools.

Remember Mercy Wanjiru Weru, the 40 year old who scored 479 points at a public school in 2010 and joined Kenya High School? She was a perfect quintessence of how Kiyiapi’s affirmative action worked.

Exit Kiyiapi and uncertainty now surrounds the window he created for candidates from the less equipped, poorly endowed public primary schools. What a pity!

Mockery of FPE

What is there in store for parents and candidates who cannot afford to pay for education in the better equipped so called academies? What but doom as average candidates and utter non-performers from rich families occupy places at all the top schools?

The candidate who committed suicide in the wake of the 2012 KCPE results was veritably the product of a public school. Conversely, virtually all the candidates and parents captured by the media celebrating sterling results drew their joy from academies. It is a mockery to the much-touted Free Primary Education.

Earning a pittance

 Woe unto the poor. Sample this. Three public schools listed as worst performers in Kiambu County (Karibaribi, Karamani and Kariaira) are located inside coffee plantations where parents are largely farmhands earning a pittance and not able to afford private school fees.

In Murang’a, worst performers Gathuya, Kirigithu, Ngaru, Kibaaka and Uhumba are in poverty prone areas.

The trend was the same elsewhere. Marginal Counties such as Elgeyo Marakwet and Baringo that were ranked high in mean scores would be nowhere on the rudder without academies where only a fraction of the children go.

Of the 191, 630 candidates who scored 300 marks and above, those from public schools were less than a quarter. Where does that leave us as a nation? In a country where education counts for everything, it means that the poor have been relegated to hopelessness. Yes, total hopelessness because their children will never enjoy subsidized university education.

In the current dispensation, that privilege is reserved for students from well to do families who can get to top, well-equipped and properly staffed secondary schools.

With the announcement that selection to secondary schools this time round will be done strictly on merit, owners of private schools cannot help celebrating as they anticipate greater enrolment and consequently bigger cheques.

We are going to see more of the dirty games where weak students are enrolled to sit examinations in satellite centres to ostensibly prevent them from lowering the mean grades of their schools.

The hefty fees and other levies they have paid become immaterial to the money hungry owners of the academies.

A similar scenario awaits the currently popular public secondary schools if KCPE is scrapped as has been proposed in some quarters and the schools are inundated without proper planning for teachers and requisite facilities.

Some of the new national schools are a case in point.

Joe Ombuor writes for The Standard.

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