The perils of privatising education

By Maurice Mutisya, APHRC

Students learning under a tree

Kenya guarantees free and compulsory basic education for all children. The 2010 constitution identifies it as a public good yet 60 years after independence access to quality education remains a pipe dream for many.

The state has a primary obligation to provide free education and has put in measures to ensure inclusivity. Free primary and secondary education policies were enacted by the government and this has expanded access to education for marginalised children. However, access to education remains a challenge for many children as demand far surpasses supply. Private schools have expanded to fill the gap.

Kenya has witnessed a steady growth of private education providers over the years – The percentage of private primary schools grew in a decade from 24 per cent to 41 per cent in ten years from  2009 to 2019.

Figure 1: Number of primary schools by category and percentage private

Source: Basic Education Statistical Booklet, 2014, 2016 and 2019

Notes: There seems some unexplained peak in the number of private schools in 2015 and 2016

The growth of private education providers has increased particularly in urban areas. This is especially true in Nairobi where education provision lags far behind population growth.

The Ministry of Education statistics in the figure above do not even include the  many private schools found in urban informal settlements – particularly the Alternative Provision of Basic Education Training Institutions (APBETs) commonly known as low-cost private schools (LCPS). The majority of LCPS are not registered with the MoE hence their information is not captured in the National Education Management and Information System (NEMIS).

Francis Wambua, a father of 5 in Nairobi’s Mathare informal settlement area, is worried that his children cannot access quality education due to his socio-economic status. “My children are forced to cross dirty streams when going to school. Their classes are congested but they have no option as we only have one public school in this area which can’t admit all the students. LCPS have insufficient teachers. And most of them are untrained.”

In 2019, the African Population and Health Research Centre (APHRC) together with other partners supported the MoE through the National Council for Nomadic Education in Kenya (NACONEK), to map such schools in the main informal settlements of Nairobi and found that only 12 per cent were registered with the Ministry. And most of the LCPS did not cater for learners with special needs, particularly those living with disabilities.

Basic Education statistics from 2019 show that Nairobi County had 198 public and 907 private primary schools with over 400,000 learners. Over 200,000 were enrolled in public schools while over 180,000 were in private schools. Yet APHRC research shows this is a gross underestimate. The same report further shows Nairobi as one of the counties with the lowest gross enrolment rates (GER) at 63.6 per cent. This is way below the national average of almost 100 per cent as seen in Figure 2.

Figure 2: Gross Enrolment Rates by County

Source: MoEs, 2019

Jane Wangoi, a teacher in Mathare is worried about infrastructure in LCPS in Nairobi: “When you visit classes in LCPS, children are squeezed in small classrooms. The student teacher ratio is worrying and most of the teachers are untrained.”

Overall, Kenya may seem to be doing well in education in comparison with its East African counterparts. Data disaggregation, however, paints a bleaker picture. The statistics show that realising equity and inclusion in Kenyan urban centres remains a great challenge. There needs to be a quick call for action for partners in the education sector to work together on a number of issues in education that promote better public schools access.

Data clearly shows this:

a. The number of public schools in Nairobi are not sufficient to cater for the large population of learners. Nairobi is not unique, since other major urban towns, particularly, Mombasa, Kisumu, Nakuru and Eldoret show similar patterns.

b. At least one in every three children of school-going age in Nairobi are unaccounted for since they are enrolled in institutions that are not registered. These children do not benefit from the free primary education capitation grant among other programmes initiated by the government.

c. While the MoE has enacted policies to register LCPS, specifically the 2009 policy on APBETs and the 2015 registration guidelines, implementation has been problematic. Registration is key to ensuring quality education and quality assurance in curriculum support.

d. Given the enrolment in the mapped LCPS and assuming 45 learners in a classroom, the government through the MoE will need to construct a minimum of 4,893 new classrooms, which is equivalent to 306 double stream primary schools (assuming 8 years of primary). This will also mean employing more than 3000 teachers in these schools.  

The implementation of inclusive education practices is anchored on enforcement of existing policy and legislation related to inclusive education. This includes proper mainstreaming of inclusion at the school level. There is thus a need for proper comprehensive dissemination of policies across all levels.

A multisectoral approach should address education barriers particularly for children living in urban informal settlements. Moreover, inclusive data generation will harness and inform interventions towards inclusive education which recognizes diversity. Sticking to this fundamental value will ensure that no child is left behind.

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