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The hot mess that is Junior Secondary

 Education cabinet secretary Ezekiel Machogu. [Denis Kibuchi, Standard]

Education Cabinet Secretary Ezekiel Machogu is on the spot for failing to push for the immediate release and disbursement of Sh9.6 billion capitation to schools to implement the transition to Junior Secondary School (JSS).

It is now emerging that the slow distribution of textbooks in schools, additional levies burdening parents and the many logistical nightmares in JSS rollout is a result of the failed prompt disbursement of capitation money to public schools.

Appearing before Senate Education Committee last week, Machogu said the disbursement delay was occasioned by a lack of accurate data captured in the National Education Management Information System (NEMIS).

"You cannot give out funds on guesswork. We have to get a specific figure to avoid cases of the government losing out funds in the process. We wanted to get this information right which we now have and anytime from next week," said Machogu.

He said some 1,137, 179 learners reported to JSS across the country. "We were also waiting for the supplementary budget which has also been passed and the money is allocated to us so we are only waiting for the exchequer by next week the money will be disbursed to various Junior Secondary schools," said Machogu.

Machogu also listed the slow pace of opening bank accounts by schools for delayed disbursement of capitation. "Teachers were required to set up a school management board for Junior Secondary, distinct from the primary board. This board was to facilitate the opening of a separate bank account where funds from the government would be channelled. This has also caused some challenges for the release of the funds," said Machogu.

 A Junior secondary school teacher takes students through an integrated lesson at Nyamachaki Primary School in Nyeri. February 22, 2023. [Kibata Kihu, Standard]

Nearly two months after rolling out JSS, schools are yet to receive a coin of the Sh15,000 capitation per learner, which was to be disbursed in a 50: 30: 20 ratio for the first, second and third terms respectively.

Part of this money was to be allocated per child towards the purchase of textbooks. And publishers are not resting easily. "It is true that most publishers are broke and needed the first instalment of 20 per cent paid for them to start Grade Seven work. There has been a crisis as printers are also unable to deliver for lack of payments,' said one of the publishers.

"I want to confess that we have not been able to give (books) to all schools up to now because the publishers sometimes have been slow in publishing all the books as required," said Machogu.

Publishers, however, attribute this slump to delayed disbursement of money to schools.

Kenya Publishers Association (KPA) chairperson Kamau Kiarie steered away from discussing government payment but admitted that the 20 per cent advance payment for Grade 7 had not been released. Other publishers said that some of the pending bills have been settled, but there is still a substantial amount not yet paid.

Last week, some Sh1.6 billion was released to the publishers. But it is emerging that this was part of pending bills of work delivered for Grade Six books. No coin has been released towards the printing and distribution of Grade Seven textbooks.

Publishers argued that the 20 per cent advance payment for Grade Seven should have been made to fast-track the printing and distribution.

"This (delay in payment) has put immense financial pressure on publishers' operations and those of the printers we are using. Salaries have been delayed, statutory obligations are not met on time, creditors keep sending demand letters and others have gone to court and are likely to obtain auction instructions against the publishers and printers,' said another publisher.

Kenya Literature Bureau, East African Education Publishers, Jomo Kenyatta Foundation, MountainTop, Storymoja, Moran, Spotlight and Longhorn are some of the publishers contracted to print and distribute 18.3 million Grade Seven textbooks to public schools.

The Standard has established that by last week about 80 per cent of book distribution had been done across schools, nearly two months after JSS learners reported.

Kenya Institute of Curriculum Development chief executive officer, Prof Charles Ong'ondo said the government has covered much ground in the distribution of textbooks. "We have progressed well and in a few days we shall have completed the exercise because the government is committed to this exercise,' said Prof Ong'ondo.

Publishers, printers and school managers, however, said that the mess in the JSS rollout is a result of the failure of the government to release funds in time. This they said, has also affected book distribution with parents pushed to shoulder additional costs.

In some schools, parents have been asked to buy desks, pay registration fees, and buy books and meals. Headteachers of primary schools, who are also the principals of JSS, revealed that it has been a tough balancing act for them with a lack of capitation funds. "We have been in catch-22. Without money to roll out JSS and also without adequate teachers to support learning," said the teacher.

Away from the late disbursement of capitation, it also emerged the Ministry of Education has delayed releasing the approved list of JSS books to publishers for accurate book distribution.

The exercise was to be completed in two weeks and a report was submitted to the Director General- Education, by January 23. This approved list was critical as it would be used to disburse capitation for learners and also aid in the distribution of textbooks to schools.

It, however, emerged that the comprehensive list of schools was released barely two weeks ago, nearly one month late, explaining why many schools have not had textbooks since JSS was rolled out.

Machogu told Senate Education Committee that a total of 18,695 primary public schools were finally approved to host Junior Secondary. He said some schools were not able to meet the requisite standards to host Junior Secondary and hence, were forced to become feeder schools to the nearby JSS.

"The movement of learners has not been shared with the ministry making it difficult to locate which institutions the learners are now placed for disbursement," Machogu told MPs.

Moving learners from feeder schools to neighbouring institutions created more confusion, further frustrating the rollout of JSS. Prof Ong'ondo told Senate Education Committee that schools which had not received a single book were those missing from the government distribution list.

''It means either they registered late after the government had started the distribution of books and have not updated their records. Others are those which had only up to grade four or up to Grade six and had not updated their records with sub-county directors of education,'' he told MPs.

Teachers' unions are also split on the cause of the mess in JSS as the scramble for about 70,000 JSS members takes centre stage.

At the centre of their argument, however, is whether teaching and learning is going on in Grade Seven. While the Kenya Union of Post Primary Education Teachers (Kuppet) maintains that no learning is taking place in JSS, the rival Kenya National Union of Teachers (Knut) defends the transition and faults their counterparts.

Kenya Primary School Heads Association (Kepsha) has also been roped in the argument, taking sides with Knut. Knut and Kepsha pushed for the domiciling of JSS in primary schools, saying the teachers available in the institutions had the capacity to teach Grade 7 classes.

Kuppet Secretary General Akelo Misori attributed the crisis in Grade Seven to a lack of enough teachers, limited learning materials, low capitation funds, unclear teacher management and low support staff in the schools."One and a half months into the transition of the pioneer cohort of the Competency-Based Curriculum, there is no learning taking place in our Junior Secondary Schools," Misori said.

Misori said teachers posted by the TSC to JSS are not adequate to handle all 14 learning areas.

Knut Secretary General Collins Oyuu, however, said learning is going on in Junior Secondary public schools arguing that teachers are being deployed well. ''If in any way any of us wishes to take the entire discourse towards a personal understanding and commercialize its output, then we shall have lost all the gains we have made,'' Oyuu said.

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