More DW Blogs DW.COM

Education for all

Five bloggers, five countries, one dialogue

A needed reform – but poorly planned

Free education has led to more girls visiting schools

At the beginning of 2003, school fees were abolished in Kenya’s public primary and, later, secondary schools. This was implemented under the Free Primary Education (FPE) programs. Parents and Kenyans in general were thrilled. Finally a government that actually works in the interest of its public, they thought. More importantly: this meant access to education for many more who could not afford to pay the school fees. All they had to do was buy a school uniform.
I think this was a good idea. A load had been taken off the parents. A very big plus for FPE is that there was now a higher female enrollment in schools because finally the parents could not say school fees were too high to send their daughters. The government also made an effort to mobilize parents to take advantage of FPE to take their girls to school. Enrollment increased, and people were content.

But as a consequence, there was an influx of students in the public schools. Classrooms were bursting with students. The government seemed to have implemented a very good idea without really thinking it through in detail. Or maybe they did not expect the euphoric Kenyans to send their children to school in such droves.

The numbers grew, but the classrooms did not, and neither did the number of teachers. Imagine a teacher to student ratio of 1:40! The quality of education was absolutely compromised. The teachers were also ill prepared to handle the new mixture of students. Suddenly there were students who had never been to school, sitting in the same class with students who were much more advanced than they were. A case in point is the phenomenal story of the oldest pupil in the world. Upon hearing that primary education was now free, Mr. Kimani Maruge at the age of 84 enrolled himself in primary school, learning together with children as young as 5 years old. Such determination! Mr. Maruge made headlines and was crowned the world’s oldest pupil. A movie was made based on his story. You can watch the trailer here:

Reforms led to more students for each teacher

Another twist to the FPE program, though, was that more private schools began to mushroom in the country as parents who were concerned about the quality and education their children were receiving – and who had enough money – moved their children to private schools. As a result of the rising demand, these schools became very expensive, almost unaffordable.

There’s another problem: There were many hidden costs that were not classified as school fees but which, in total, cost a hefty amount of money, hampering the efforts made by the government. Was it back to the starting point for the parents, students and teachers?

This led to discussions that the government likely did not anticipate. It raised questions about gaps in Kenyan social classes. When people talked about equal chances at education, they were not referring to the gender issue only, rather also to the issue of social class. And the issues have now shifted away from just access to education to access to quality education.

Despite the discussion, the problems continue. A great idea but poorly implemented!


June 14, 2012 | 9:54 am