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Do the poor folk stand a chance in Kenya's education system?

By SOH Ojiambo | January 7th 2016

Last week, I heaved a big sigh as the Education CS spoke of public schools having performed  dismally when compared to private schools. Well, what did I expect? The Kenyan public schools, whether primary, secondary or tertiary institutions are the most neglected  government institutions and expecting a high performance from them can be termed as the joke of the year so to say.

Just before we delve into demystifying the fact that poor people in Kenya have an uphill task in getting a higher quality education, I think it will be prudent for me to say that when talking about public schools, I do not mean those uptown "public" schools whose termly fees is tripple the salary of some civil servants, but the real public schools whose pupils and students don't even understand why some people wear shoes to school in the first place.

It's only the poor child in a Kenyan public school who understand what it means when teachers strike for two months and since there are no libraries in the villages, the child has to stay home waiting and praying for the strike to end. The child has no text books and since the strike began just before the third term commenced, there are no notes to read. So only one option remains; play and pray till the strike ends.

Finally the strike ends but the horror has just began. Going to school only to sit in a tiny hot class with over 80 heads crammed together to sip knowledge from a single teacher who was actually "forced"  to work in the name of negotiations. The pupil has to face a demotivated teacher in an unfriendly environment with an impossible goal of challenging an uptown pupil whom the closest he has come to a teacher's strike is on the seven o'clock news, a pupil who does not understand what it means to be 80 people in a room of 40 and a pupil who only sweats during PE classes! When these two are given a similar exam, who stands a better chance?

That aside, the government prides itself in having connected over 90% of public primary schools with electricity. Well, while that is such a milestone step and is to be lauded with all patriotic Kenyans, the question is, what is the use of electricity to a child who reports to school at 8 am and leaves for home at 4 pm? My opinion is that a well functioning and properly packed library will serve that pupil better than a 24 hour supply of electricity.

Whereas private schools pride themselves in having well equipped libraries, good teachers who love their jobs or at least seem to and  academic policies that create room for performance, our public schools are like rites of passages whereby the initiates are compelled to pass through just because they are supposed to. Our teachers teach just because they have an albatross tied on their necks by the government and pupils and students attend classes just for the sake of attending. It takes those with the resilience of diamond to work through the tight rope and come out successfully.

The agony of poor children in public schools does not end after high-school. Even in public universities the script is just the same though now the stage is different. While the rich guys in the university will always seem to have their way as some don't attend classes and some do not even know how a university examination looks like, those who came from the poor folks will scratch their heads bald trying to bridge the gap between the two worlds but on graduation day, the reverse will be true.

So, this leaves poor people with only one choice- struggle. They struggle to fit in a class well, some even sit under a tree. The policy is four people per textbook, that is if you are lucky and syllabus coverage is left at the whims and mercy of their teacher. To them, KCPE and KCSE exams only serve to prove that private schools are better than public schools and when the Minister stands tall and announces a decline in public schools performance in relation to private schools, that only drives the point home.

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Truth be said Kenyans, we have neglected our public institutions and in return they have neglected us. If only the government would endeavour in ensuring that our public schools have enough text books, that our teachers are motivated to teach and that our pupils and students are encouraged to attend school not compelled to, then we would start reading from a different script all together.

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