Let early learning centres remain at the county level

Learners at Central Primary School ECDE centre enjoy free county milk on September 7, 2023. [File, Standard]

The Presidential Working Party on Education Reforms has proposed that Early Childhood Development and Education (ECDE) centres be transferred from the county administration to the national government.

The governors have strongly rejected the proposal, seeing that they have over the last few years, invested heavily in infrastructure and human resource to run the centres. The wisdom behind the latest proposal is to have primary school head teachers take over ECDEs from county governments in addition to being in charge of junior secondary schools. This will in turn create comprehensive schools that run from pre-primary to junior secondary schools.

However, given the heavy investment and initiatives by county governments, it would be unfair to take them away abruptly.

The counties have also provided capitation grants for the pupils and some even have school feeding programmes, which have boosted enrolment rates. 

As the governors stated early this week, county governments cumulatively allocate Sh10 billion yearly to education and given the manner in which the national government disburses capitation to other categories of schools, it is likely that ECDEs will suffer. 

In the past, the centres were run by communities, which is why the framers of the Constitution retained them at the local level. At the same time, while the recommendation will streamline basic learning, ECDEs were placed under counties by the Constitution and it will require an amendment to effect it.

Piecemeal amendments to the Constitution pose the danger of opening up the supreme law to numerous other changes including those serving narrow political interests. Another proposal is to amend the Basic Education Act so that the County Commissioner can chair the District Education Board. As Kericho Governor Erick Mutai noted, this would clearly claw back on devolution since pre-primary education is a devolved function. 

We, however, note that the Intergovernmental Relations Technical Committee has planned a consultative meeting to thrash out the contentious proposals.

Governors should attend the January 16 meeting because their voices need to find accommodation. It will also ensure the impasse does not lead to confrontation, which will only create confusion and disrupt learning.  The meeting should also maintain the spirit of devolution. The transfer of functions and money to counties is one of the best things to happen under the 2010 Constitution.

The era when decisions were made in Nairobi went with the old constitution and there is no justification to revisit the arrangement. What the national government should do is develop a framework for identifying children’s inherent abilities, talents and aligning them to early childhood education and future professional training as recommended by Vision 2030.