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Inequalities in education threat to progress

COMMENTARY
By Brezhnev Otieno and Izel Kipruto | January 25th 2016

The last few weeks saw nationwide pomp and jubilations as over half-a-million candidates got their results of the 2015 Kenya Certificate of Primary Examination (KCPE). As usual, focus was on those schools and pupils who performed well.

The candidates who performed ‘poorly’ were nowhere mentioned and will most certainly be forgotten and lost within the statistics from the Kenya National Examination Council (KNEC). The determinants of performance by the pupils are numerous and varied.

Some of the pupils have been disadvantaged by the dilapidated infrastructure, teacher shortage, absenteeism, demotivation in their schools and inequalities within the counties.

Uwezo Kenya learning assessment reports have consistently shown that pupils in more developed counties perform slightly better than their counterparts in marginalised counties.

According to the latest Uwezo report, only 14, 13 and 10 per cent of the Standard Three pupils in Turkana, Samburu and Mandera can competently do Standard Two numeracy and literacy work. The situation is different in Nyeri, Kajiado and Nairobi where 58, 54 and 52 per cent of the pupils respectively possess Standard Two numeracy and literacy skills.

The obvious common denominator in these glaring differences is the income and infrastructural levels of these counties. The Kenya Institute for Public Policy Research and Analysis (Kippra) Economic Report 2013 estimates the overall poverty levels in Kajiado, Nairobi and Nyeri counties at 12, 21 and 31 per cent respectively.

Turkana, Samburu and Mandera registered poverty levels of 93, 78 and 87 per cent respectively in the same report. The teacher and pupil ratio is glaring across the counties.

The teacher pupil ratio in Mandera, Samburu, Kajiado and Nairobi counties are around 1:88, 1:47, 1:60 and 1:55 respectively. The high teacher pupil ratio in Mandera impacts the level of learning in the schools and performance of the pupils in the national examinations.

The Uwezo report further indicates that only 10 per cent of the pupils in Standard Three possess requisite numeracy and literacy skills for Standard Two. In the 2015 KCPE results, pupils from Mandera obtained a mean score of 173 and this has been the trend over the years.

The distribution of teachers within the counties is also a challenge. Most of the teachers prefer to work in major towns and trading centres. This has led to teacher shortage in far flung and ‘hostile’ areas. Last year there was mass exodus of teachers from the northern part of Kenya due to uncertainty over security.

Children in the arid and semi-arid areas walk for longer distances, averaging over 10 kilometres to reach school. They have to contend with wild animals, occasional insecurity, famine, drought and other natural calamities.

Access to water is often a luxury and the unavailability of schooling and learning inputs places them at a disadvantage. Yet, children from these areas are expected to sit for same national examination with their counterparts in urban areas who have abundance of learning materials and resources.

The number of out-of-school children in the arid areas is high. The Uwezo report indicates that in Marsabit and Turkana counties, 32 and 40 per cent of children aged 6-13 years are out of school respectively. In Muranga and Nyeri counties, only 1 and 2 per cent of children are not in school respectively.

The state of infrastructure in some schools in rural areas and informal settlements scandalizes our nation. As a middle-income country, it is unfortunate we still have children who are schooling in non-conducive and inhospitable conditions. In Turkana, images of pupils learning under trees and in the open are not only disturbing, but shameful.

The glaring geographical and structural inequalities obviously hinder our desired achievement of the ratified Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and our own Vision 2030.

They are a serious threat to development, both at the national and county levels. As we begin the year 2016, it is imperative that the national government and the counties come up with policies that will level such inequalities and thus accelerate the development agenda.

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