By Ogova Ondego
Published October 16, 2008
When the National Rainbow Coalition (NARC) government of President Mwai Kibaki came to power in Kenya on December 30, 2002, one of the first things it did was to introduce ‘free’ primary school education in 2003.
The above development was in line with the United Nations Millennium Development Goals which, among seven other objectives, is to ensure universal primary education for all by 2015.
The MDGs were adopted in September 2000 by the UN General Assembly that represented 198 nations.
So how is Kenya fairing on the universal primary education front?
Dr Edward Sambili, the permanent secretary in the ministry of planning and national development, says “the introduction of free primary school education in 2003 has seen the net enrolment rate in primary school increase from 73.7% in 2000 to 84.2% in 2006” and that “Gross enrolment rate stands at 105%”. Now, he adds, the government is addressing the issues of the quality of the facilities and services.
But is the permanent secretary’s sentiments based on wishful thinking or fact?
James Tooley, an education expert at New Castle University in the UK who did a survey in Kibera in 2003 at the so-called introduction of free primary education, tells BBC Focus on Africa magazine that “the number of private schools has increased from 76 to 116 now. In private schools, pupil enrolment has risen to around 28, 000 from 12, 600, a rise of more than 100 per cent. Government school enrolment has risen by only 23 per cent, suggesting that parents are aware private schools will better serve them.”
But it also isn’t accurate to say that NARC introduced free primary school in Kenya as President Jomo Kenyatta’s Kenya African National Union (KANU) government had made primary school education free since 1974. Upon succeeding Kenyatta, Daniel Toroitich arap Moi had even provided free milk to pupils. Then, many children remained in public primary schools unlike now when most are grappling for the mushrooming private ‘academies’. To them, ‘free’ translates to ‘cheap’.