OKOTH: Grappling with politics of education


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There is an urgent need for more quality schools. Not enough children are in school and there is a shortage of good ones.

What I want to see is a healthy mix: Government, charity-run, faith, private and low-fee schools, all working together to give parents as much choice as possible.

There’s always someone saying there’s evidence that school choice doesn’t work, as the New America group suggested, wrongly, in a recent New York Times article.

In case anyone wonders why it’s important that President Uhuru Kenyatta and Education Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang’i relentlessly talk about school choice, this quote by scholar and educator Robert Pondiscio says it all:

“We can argue until the sun goes out over evidence. The stronger case will always be for the moral authority of choice and fundamental fairness and decency: I chose my kid’s school; I don’t have the right to deny you the same freedom I enjoy. It’s unjust, immoral and deeply un-American.”

Wall Street Journal reporter Bill McGurn wrote a fabulous piece recently, arguing that US Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’s best move would be to shame the failing school districts and communities preventing all of America’s students from getting an opportunity.

It is high time the government came up with a Marshall Plan for the transformation of the public education sector to meet the demands of the 21st century. 

We need to see and feel investment in classrooms, desks, textbooks, laboratories, integrated ICT, sports and the arts.

The major shortage of teachers and their poor distribution is an open secret the Teachers Service Commission has yet to fix.

It’s no good holding onto the past, because if we carry on doing what we’ve always done we won’t get out of the current system that is letting so many children down.

Efforts of a few innovators such as Bridge International Academies, which helping to fix the shortage of teachers and good schools, should not be demonised.

Parents want results and not empty rhetoric. Bridge schools perform better in the KCPE exam than public and other private schools in their neighbourhoods.

It’s time for the people in charge of education to show the value we are getting when over 50 per cent of the candidates fail the KCPE exam every year, and independent studies by Haki Elimu and the World Bank show that the literacy and numeracy skills of many Standard Eight children are now below the required proficiency for Standard Three and Four. 

In Busia, the County Board of Education recently decided to shut down Bridge nurseries and schools without a clear plan of how the pupils would be reassigned and guaranteed quality education in the overcrowded, under-resourced low-performing public schools

Powerful people like union leaders and top ministry officials can afford to pay for their children to attend the best high-cost private schools.

What all parents want is choice they can afford and a guaranteed good performance.

As long as public schools continue to perform badly, poor parents concerned about the future of their children will seek alternatives.

Why are some low-fee schools not able to get registration?

If this policy was fully adopted by regional education boards, thousands of children would benefit, and the government would be able to help restore the lost glory of the public education sector.

Gimmicks such as “stricter KCPE exams” and “one laptop per child”, will only assuage the egos and financial interests of well-connected people without real improvement in the quality of teaching and learning. Our children deserve better.

Mr Okoth is the MP for Kibra and a member of the parliamentary Education Committee. [email protected]

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