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Class one children from private schools should also receive laptops

UREPORT
By Linus Origa | August 30th 2016

Just recently, President Kenyatta made a call to private universities to be open to admit the government-sponsored students. Consequently, the Kenya Universities and Colleges Central Placement Service (KUCCPS) has announced that an additional 10,000 people, out of the 2015 KCSE candidates, will gain admission into the tertiary system. If that happens, KUCCPS says, the total number that would be admitted this year will go up by about 13% to 84,389. The move is commendable. But before we celebrate, let us go back a year or two from today.

According to the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (Kenya Facts and Figures, 2015) the number of primary school enrolment stood at close to 10 million pupils: 9,857,600 to be precise. For the year 2014, that number went up slightly to 9,950,800 for statistics released in 2015. Two subcategories constitute the figures 9,857,600 or 9,950,800:  the net enrolment ratio (NER) and gross enrolment ratio (GER).

By definition, the NER for primary school is the percentage of the primary-school-age population (age 6-13) that is enrolled in primary school. The GER, on the other hand, is the total number of primary school students of any age, expressed as a percentage of the official primary school-age population. To best illustrate the difference between NER and GER, GER category would also include, if he was still alive, the likes of Mzee Kimani Maruge who enrolled in class one at Kapkenduiywo primary aged over 80 years old.

But let us focus our attention to 2014. That is the year the Jubilee government was supposed to roll out the free laptop program.  Both NER and GER stood at 88.2 and 103.5 percent, respectively. These enrollment ratios, according to the Kenya Demographic and Health Survey (KDHS, 2014), are quite high in all regions of the Kenya. The GER is higher, indicating that a substantial number of boys and girls who are not of official primary school age are attending primary school.

The KDHS 2014 gave percent distribution of household population by five-year age groups, according to their sex and residence. But only the 5-9 age groups, which make up 15.3% (or 6,786,162) of the estimated 44,354,000 people in Kenya as at 2014, will be of key interest for this illustration. Naturally, there is a high probability of finding a pupil aged 5-9 years in class one, or slightly beyond class one.

The numbers of potential beneficiaries are quite high. That is good news. The government’s intention (however delayed) to give out laptops to those joining class one should also be commended. But the approach to the intervention, and the open discrimination approach it used, should have been strongly questioned and opposed by all citizens from the start. Unfortunately nobody did.

Naturally, a government policy should be all-inclusive, covering all citizens. But this response has been lacking in the laptops-for-class-one project.  The pupils enrolling in class one in private schools are not part of the potential beneficiaries. So what is the rationale for not including them in the system? The most probable reason would be that those who conceived the program assumed, wrongly, that the children who attend private schools are from economically stable backgrounds, and so the parents and guardians can afford to buy them the laptops.

If that was to be the case, then it would qualify as a gross misrepresentation of fact. In some regions in Kenya, and they are quite a number, some of the so called private schools are even more dilapidated than most public ones. So parents only enroll their kids to such schools for convenience, sometimes because the nearest public school is kilometers away making it hard for a 6-year child to walk to and from.

Given that the ratio of those enrolling in private to those in public schools is large (the Kenya Open Data puts the totals of 247,266 pupils in private versus 1,135,307 pupils in public schools enrolled in class one in 2014), the least the government would have done is to roll out the laptop program to all school-going children in class one, regardless of the title, status or location of their school. Those attending private schools are also expected to equally learn and develop skills, include computer and IT skills, which they would use in future. Besides, their parents and guardians are also genuine tax payers, with every right to benefit from government projects.

What would happen to the kids who are initially enrolled in private academies by their parents then later transferred to public schools, say when they are in class three? They would join three years after their peers had been given their laptops, and they will have no laptop of their own by virtue of a false start. Some of the kids who may be enrolled in the public schools where they received their laptops in class one; may later on due to certain changes in the lifestyles of their parents, be transfer to private schools. Will such a child be required to surrender their laptops? We are also told that the free laptop program also has components of infrastructure development, including school electrification. The general assumption is that for those kids who attend school in the rural, possibility of not having electricity in their school is higher than their counterparts at urban areas. We certainly do not need a government that openly discriminates against part of its own citizens. A well-meaning government will have no justification in deliberate exclusion of part of its citizens in development agenda. If at all, the private academies absorb a lot of burden that would otherwise be shouldered by the government of the day.

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