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County governments should set up tuition centres to bolster education

By Suleiman Shahbal | Nov 9th 2021 | 3 min read

Pupils of Jacaranda Primary school in Bahati constituency in Nakuru at one of the classrooms on August 16, 2018, during the holiday tuition. [Kipsang Joseph, Standard]

In 1957, Ali Muhsin, Zanzibar’s Minister of Education appointed a Commission of Inquiry to understand why Indian and Comorian students in Zanzibar were outperforming African, Swahili and Arab students in national exams.

The report concluded that students’ results were largely dependent on parents’ contribution to education. African, Arab and Swahili boys were allowed to go to play after school and girls sent to the kitchen to cook. Their parents paid little or no attention to what their children did in school. They had little or no interaction with the teachers on their children’s performance.

Indian and Comorian families were the opposite. There was also one more additional factor – private tuition. These parents paid for extra tuition to help their kids do better in school. This made all the difference in performance. We also know that academic excellence leads to professional jobs and usually higher paying jobs. It is difficult to believe, but something as simple as tuition could have such a lifelong impact.

In 2013, the transition rates from primary to secondary and from high school to university were amongst the lowest in the country so I decided to try a social experiment.

I investigated why our children were not doing so well and found the reasons were almost exactly as those from Zanzibar. I set up 20 tuition centres which I called Exam Preparation Centres across the county. I organised for teachers to earn a little bit more money by helping prospective final year students with past year papers. The centres were free.

Did we succeed? Both yes and no. Students who used our centres did better than those who didn’t. More than 75 per cent graduated to high school and university compared to below 50 per cent for students who didn’t attend our centres.

Unfortunately, the attitudes of the parents did not change, they saw these tuition centres as extensions of school, and they brought the same attitudes. They completely refused to contribute even a symbolic Sh100 to the centres.  It was difficult for an individual to sustain the monthly expense of running these centres.

The idea of tuition centres offers an interesting policy opportunity for counties to rapidly improve their educational results. It is difficult to change parental attitudes quickly, but it can be done.

In the meantime, we need a quick fix with our underperformance. We must increase the number of graduates from Mombasa. It is almost impossible for a student to do multiple exam papers for a whole year with the assistance of teachers and not achieve the minimum C-plus grade that is required for admission to university.

County governments should set up and bear the cost of such tuition centres, particularly in lower-income areas. If we cannot offer equal standards of education, then we should at least offer all kids an equal opportunity to pass and a chance for a better future. Such affirmative action can change the lives of so many disadvantaged youths.

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