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Address education quality in urban informal settlements

Pupils in class during the first day of third term at Brightstar Academy. [Wilberforce Okwiri, Standard]

Urbanisation is taking place at a fast pace in Kenya, just like the rest of Africa. Going by UN estimates, around 60 per cent of the population in Nairobi lives in urban slums. Urbanisation can result in more opportunities and growth. However, if no proper governance structures are put in place, it may also cause challenges.

As we marked the Global Action Week for Education (GAWE) 2021, the plight of children in informal settlements was highlighted. GAWE is an annual campaign organised by the Global Campaign for Education in support of the human right to quality, inclusive, universal education. The theme for the 2021 GAWE is Education Financing.

Activities undertaken during the week (in April) are focused on increasing public financing of education to ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and to promote lifelong learning opportunities for all.

Children in the informal settlements face challenges, including inadequate infrastructure, inadequate public services in health and education, insecurity, and poor water and sanitation facilities.

There is a need for governments to step up the provision of crucial services especially education since thousands of children living in poor urban settlements do not have access to public schools. Their only option is the low-cost private schools, popularly known as Alternative Provision for Basic Education and Training Institutions.

The growth of private schools in Kenya deepens the already existing education inequalities. Children from high-income families attend expensive high-quality schools which are known to perform well, while those from poor backgrounds are relegated to public and low-cost private schools which are grossly under-resourced. This kind of segregation has a negative impact on the overall quality of education.

Kenya allocates 21 per cent of the yearly budget to education, well above the 20 per cent global benchmark. In the 2020-2021 Financial Year, Kenya allocated 29.4 per cent of its total budget to education. Kenya spends 14.20 dollars on a pupil under free primary education and 222.40 dollars under free secondary education.

The finances are split into three main areas; teacher remuneration - 50 per cent public universities take 20.9 per cent, public primary and secondary education 21.7 per cent of the budget while the rest goes to TVETs. The minimal budget goes towards development, hence the low number of new schools built per year.

While Kenya has made positive steps in increasing the education budget and has even surpassed the recommended global minimum, issues around teacher scarcity, quality of education and the strain on school infrastructure have not been addressed. At the same time, current allocations are not equitable, as they are not informed by need. For instance, funding based on school enrollment levels leads to severe underfunding of schools in poor neighbourhoods, usually characterised by low student enrolment.

In addition, corruption and misappropriation of resources are rife within the education sector. Challenges resulting in the heightened risk of misappropriation of funds include poor record-keeping, poor accounting systems and procedures; community/parents limited commitment and capacity to monitor and control the use of school funds. There is also a lack of effective auditing and supervision, an inflexible budgeting process and delays in the disbursement of funds from the government.

The GAWE 2021 theme on education financing is very opportune as policy dialogues and advocacy during the week focused on increasing financing of education to ensure inclusive and equitable quality education for all. In the commemoration of the action week, stakeholders in the education sector reiterate the need for the Kenyan government to, firstly, increase budgetary allocation so that more public schools, especially in urban informal settlements, can be established.

Secondly, it should expand existing facilities and personnel in public primary schools and engage in stringent enforcement of the regulatory framework especially concerning private actors. Thirdly, the government should identify frameworks that will help support children in urban informal settlements to access public education. The government should ensure timely generation of evidence on schooling patterns of children living in urban poor areas.

In addition, the role of other education stakeholders including the non-governmental organisations and research institutions, and development partners to ensuring improved monitoring of public expenditure equitable financing should also be acknowledged.

Ms Wawira and Karigitho work for East African Centre for Human Rights. Thiong’o is a Research Officer at African Population and Health Research Centre.  

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