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A million children miss school despite FPE

EDUCATION
By - | December 17th 2012

By Edwin Cheserek

At least a million children are out of school despite introduction of Free Primary Education (FPE) programme by government nine years ago. 

Director of Basic Education, Ms Leah Rotich, disclosed the dropout rate was alarming even as she said government had stepped up efforts to reduce the number of children not going to school.

The children most affected are those from pastoralist communities. The ministry is also grappling with the fact that children are still dropping out even though they benefit from free school feeding programme.

Kenya National Union of Teachers (Knut), however, wants the Government to routinely audit FPE programme to evaluate its success and failures. “Since inception, this programme was left to run on auto-pilot (mode) and the high drop out rate is just a tip of the iceberg,” said the Knut chairman, Mr Wilson Sossion.

Rotich had said out of the 9.4 million pupils currently in public and private institutions, dropout rate stands at 4.6 per cent annually.

“Children who drop out face a bleak future. They are more likely to be illiterate, unemployed and will live in poverty,” she said in an exclusive interview with The Standard.

The problem is compounded by the fact some parents have little enthusiasm for education and instead of encouraging children to remain in school, choose to just look the other way.

“Among these children, there are those who desire education but the parents’ lifestyles hinder their dreams,” Rotich went on.

The director also pointed out majority of orphaned children abandon school, exacerbating dropout cases.

Other factors she cited include lack of connection to the school due to perception that learning is boring, feeling unmotivated, academic challenges, and personal situations.

“In general, feeling unmotivated or uninspired to work hard could be a significant factor in the dropouts’ discontent with school,” added Rotich. Sossion, however, attributed the problem to the low allocation of funds per pupil under the FPE programme, poor payment of teachers and poverty in the country.

“How do you expect pupils to find school interesting when they are crammed in one classroom, taught by a de-motivated teacher while nearly half the class came to school on empty stomachs?” he posed.

Sossion added there were 4.9 million orphaned children allegedly ignored by government.

“Nobody wants to care whether they are going to school or even if they are, the government and the Kenyan society does not care how they are doing at home,” he argued.

Rotich, however, expressed concern even in areas where the government introduced free school feeding programme, mainly in pastoral and informal settlements, they still record high dropout rates and low enrolment.

The director explained 1.2 million children were under school-feeding programmes run by the Ministry of Education in collaboration with World Food Programme (WFP).

Abandon learning

She stated children from the pastoralist communities were being forced to abandon learning programmes in search of water and pasture for their livestock.

“These movements do not allow pupils to continue with their education and have to drop out so as to relocate to areas that can support their livelihoods,” she said.

Rotich pointed out absenteeism as one of the commonest indicator of student disengagement from learning and a significant cause of drop out.

She cited other factors as poor performance by affected pupils, discipline and behaviour problems, and lack of involvement in class and school activities, pregnancy as well as being held back a grade or more. Pupils who transfer from one school to another also end up dropping, she explained.

Rotich made the revelations at the weekend during a workshop for County Education Quality Assurance and Standards Officers drawn from North Rift, Western and Nyanza Provinces at an Eldoret hotel. She also later spoke to The Standard.

“We are asking parents to help us change this trend and take the education of their children seriously so that they can improve their lives and make them self-reliant in future,” she advised.

The Ministry of Education, Rotich stated, is working together with development partners and Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) to encourage more pupils to join school.

Rotich explained that although the initiative has had a significant effect in pupil enrolment, much more should be done to retain the children especially in marginalised areas.

The director disclosed that more than 10,000 pupils were learning in mobile schools funded by the government within pastoral and arid areas.

Knut, however, faulted the government saying it had not done enough to encourage access and retention of pupils in public schools where FPE is offered. “First, the allocation of 1,000 per child for this (FPE) is in itself a drop in the ocean. Private schools charge up to Sh100, 000 for the same. They are worlds apart,” said Sossion.

He said FPE ratio needed to be relooked as it was not only a major contributor to the drop out rates but also affected quality of education.

“The problem of FPE needs to be looked at wholly. Let us not just concentrate on dropouts. We can keep the children in school but what kind of education are they getting?” asked Sossion.

“It is not only the marginalised areas like Turkana where children lack food. There are millions in urban areas too whose parents cannot afford them lunch,” he said.

Sossion advised government to formulate a workable policy and legal framework purposely for FPE if has to contribute to the country’s development goals including Vision 2030.

Rotich lauded some NGOs and corporate institutions she said were trying hard to ensure children return to school. “It is most likely the children would have remained in schools had the institutions demanded more of them and provided with them necessary support,” she observed.

Rotich raised concerns that some families employ the children in their homes as housemaids and herds’ boys when they were aware that the law is against child employment.

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