Invest more in education and stop outlawed levies

In 2018, the United Nations explicitly stated that “education is the key that will allow many other Sustainable Development Goals to be achieved. When people are able to get quality education, they can break from the cycle of poverty. Education therefore helps to reduce inequalities and to reach gender equality”.

This truism has totally eluded our top leadership. To say the government is inept in the management of education is an understatement. Indeed, the government is actively presiding over the ruination and erosion of standards in the education system through neglect and abdication of its responsibilities.

While infrastructural development, hiring of teachers, remunerating them, stocking libraries and provision of learning materials in public schools is the primary responsibility of a functional government, somehow, the government found a way to pass some of those responsibilities to parents. 

Teacher shortages in public schools hamper effective delivery of education. Head teachers and boards of governors are compelled to plug teacher shortages by hiring part-time teachers. Without a budget to cater for this, parents end up bearing the cost. 

Teacher shortage in public schools is estimated to total 120,000. This, notwithstanding that there are more than 350,000 trained, yet jobless teachers wasting away, waiting for the government to come to their rescue. In the 2023/2024 budget, the Ministry of Education was allocated Sh544.4 billion to cater, at the very least, for 10,482 secondary schools, 32,594 primary schools and 68 universities besides other expenses.

Our education system is not structured in a way that lets individuals to compete on an even keeling to allow those at the lower strata of society escape from the cycle of poverty that pervades them. From categorising schools as national, county, harambee, high or low cost to illegal levies that have gained prominence while government peddles the false free primary school education narrative, the reality is that many children from humble backgrounds are out of school, thanks to levies the government has perfunctorily declared illegal but is so loathe to eradicate.

Besides monthly tuition fees that range between Sh500 and Sh2,000, there is weekly payment of examination fees of Sh100, a monthly charge by boards of governors and other miscellaneous demands that poor households cannot meet. In the end, most students spend time out of school after being sent away.

Teachers have developed a sense of entitlement to tuition fees, which they should abandon. The tragedy is that the teachers’ unions, while rightfully agitating for better remuneration for teachers, never miss to call for the “motivation” of teachers. Headteachers latch onto this to harass poor parents and bombard them with demands for 'motivation' - trips and money- that amounts to extortion. What if every other worker were to demand ‘motivation’ besides their salaries that compensate them for work done? 

The government should make education truly free and stop its pursuit from being a major poverty creation factor. Families have sold their only pieces of land and valuables to educate children who end up jobless to continue the debilitating cycle of poverty.

Mr Chagema is sub-editor, The Standard