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Why government plan to abolish boarding schools is far from learned

 Boarding schools are very popular with parents, partly because they have strict rules and are able to mould children into responsible citizens. . [Christopher Kipsang, Standard]

Basic Education PS Belio Kipsang recently shocked the country when he announced that the government had abolished boarding schools for grades one to nine.

The move, he said, will make education affordable as the schools had become expensive. The shift in policy is one of the recommendations made by the Presidential Working Party on Education Reforms in a report presented to President William Ruto.

At a glance, this policy appears excellent, but such a major shift required intense consultations with key education stakeholders and a sessional paper drafted and approved by Parliament. That said, such a decision is not easy to implement. Boarding schools are among the best institutions, offering children a chance to wholly concentrate on their studies and learn how to become independent at an early age.

These schools are very popular with parents, partly because they have strict rules and are able to mould children into responsible citizens. Christian missionaries, who were mainly interested in converting Africans to Christianity during the colonial period, established boarding schools in Kenya.

They felt that the best approach to doing so was by isolating local children in mission schools. Later, the government found it necessary to establish boarding facilities in primary schools, especially to cater for children from distant areas.

A common argument against boarding primary schools is that they are expensive, especially for poor parents. Currently, the cost of studying in such schools is much higher compared to others. Parents pay boarding fees, meet transport costs to and from school twice in a term, including during half-terms, do shopping for their children and give them pocket money, among other expenses.

Critics further argue that boarding schools breed inequalities, as majority of parents are unable to afford education in the institutions. Many scholars retort that inability of poor parents to send their children to boarding schools is a symptom of systemic inequality, not its cause.

It is true that attending a boarding school is correlated with income, but instead of closing the institutions, the government should focus on poverty eradication and provide bursaries to children from poor households to ensure equitable admission.

Opponents of boarding primary schools also argue that the schools detach children from their parents during their formative years. This may be true, but it is worth noting that many pupils have busy parents who leave home at 6am and return late in the night.

Critics of boarding primary schools should acknowledge the fact that the institutions make it possible for children whose homes are far to get education. This shows that the benefits of boarding schools for grades 7, 8 and 9 outweigh their potential social impact.

The government should take a more rational approach to boarding primary schools. Instead of abolishing them, it should come up with regulations on their operations. For instance, it can direct that only children in grades 7 and above should attend boarding schools.

Prof Ogula is the chairman, Society of Educational Research and Evaluation in Kenya

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