Since the emergence of the Covid-19 crisis, closure of schools has predominantly been seen as a problem of delayed schooling. Palpable conversations primarily narrow schools closure concerns to education quality and access. There have been distresses on dwindled teachers’ earnings, and social impact on students, like rising alcoholism and unwanted pregnancy cases. Doubtless, the cardinal disquiet is disruption of learning.
However, what escapes a swath of the education ecosystem policy makers is the economic costs of a lost academic year. By large, the direct economic function of our schooling system is elusive in Covid-19 response.
In Kenya, a school is fundamentally an economic unit in our local communities, as much as it is a learning institution. For instance, in rural and peri-urban areas, 75 per cent of local markets primarily form around school institutions.
Basically, they are quick-cash open-air trading centres, convenient and easy to start because of a nearby school. In particular, women who cannot afford huge capital to raise stalls in more developed distant market places dominate these markets. It ensures they take home at least Sh100 a day.
In pastoralist communities, grandparents participate in such economy too, by selling milk to school employees. Through a calendared delivery that translates into a monthly pay when teachers and workers earn salary, the informal market economy thrives.
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Equally for men, where there is a school, tomatoes and onions sell. Posho mills for grinding tonnes of grains to the school economy will mushroom. Popcorns and ice creams businesses boom.
And even for posh private schools, chauffeur services by motorbike riders and taxis flourish. Moreover, there are major middle-level suppliers of high-end goods and services. These autonomous small-scale economic activities around schools are easily overlooked during decision-making in such crisis.
We must, however, reminiscence about schooling system as one of our primal growth industries. One way of doing so is by structuring and availing income streams that can maintain money supply in this elementary economy to prevent it from collapsing. The economic stimulus programme can adopt three income initiatives to innovate on demand and supply of money in this indispensable economy.
First is Local Foods Income (LFI) to be given to teachers and school workers in form of vouchers. Teachers and school workers are the largest single occupational entity in our country that immediately makes up a single target economic group. As such their consumption of basic commodities in local communities can quickly stimulate an underwritten economy.
The second is Future Secured Income (FSI), given directly to Class Four to Form Four leaners. They are able to manually work, but are not necessarily employable. FSI is not free money. The Government identifies major environmental challenges affecting the economy, and structures a National Patriots Programme (NPP) for this lot. These students can economically dispense labour in planting and time in taking care of trees. NPP would pay a student an FSI of Sh50 for each tree natured for the entire duration of school closure.
FSI secures the environment future of the nation. Second, it secures the children’s future by contributing to their parents’ earnings. FSI creates opportunity for government to engage more than nine million primary and secondary schools idled talents, to productively contribute in earnings of their families.
These three income streams can be implemented by innovating the platform and use of the National Education Management Information System (Nemis). Including temporarily morphed mechanisms for teachers into managers of husbandry practices, surveillance of projects and aesthetics of distributing payments. There are perspectives to engage students as youth in starting businesses.
- The writer is the founder of Ongoza and Obama Fellow. [email protected]