“Provision of free primary education for all our children will be immediate goal”; pledged Kibaki during his 2002 inaugural speech.
Providing free primary education (FPE) in public schools was one of President Kibaki’s key election pledges in 2002. Kenya first attempted to implement FPE when the late President Kenyatta announced in December 1973, that basic education would be free of charge. The implementation processes began in 1974, but failed since there was no financial commitment from the government. Kenya almost achieved universal primary education (UPE) during the decade of the 1980s, with enrollment rates reaching 94 per cent. In the 1990s, basic education went through many reforms, but given the unfavorable political climate under then-President Moi, its standards fell, especially due to cutbacks in donor-funding.
By offering free primary education, Kibaki’s government is on the right track to achieving universal primary education (UPE), which is number two on the list of eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) to be met by 2015. The introduction of FPE gave poor Kenyan parents a lot of hope for their children’s success, since these parents do not have any wealth to bequeath them. Paying school fees had always meant selling their meager possessions; marrying off their daughters to get bride price to pay for their other children’s schooling; doing petty trade or manual work; and pleading with teachers to let their children remain in school. Many children in Kenya had been known to drop out of school, only to return later when there was enough money. These children also engaged in child labor to help their siblings and families.
For instance, girls in Kenya suffer more from the high cost of education and whenever there is economic pressure, almost 50 per cent of families withdraw them from school. (Daily Nation January 16, 2003). However, investing in high quality education for girls is known to increase their chances of attaining quality life while educated girls also benefit the wider society in general (The State of the World’s Children, 2002). The introduction of FPE in January 2003 was therefore a great relief to Kenyan families.
According to UNICEF (cited by Fleshman in: ‘Giant step for Kenya’s Schools’, 2005), Kenya’s total enrollment in primary school was 7.4 million in 2004, compared to under six million pupils in 2000. There are currently 8.8 million school children in the FPE program. However, the FPE political promise did not include increasing the number of teachers required to meet the huge population of school children. Therefore, Kenya lacks around 70,000 teachers to meet the recommended teacher-pupil ratio per classroom. Somerset (2007) has assessed Kenya’s enrollment trends over four decades and stresses that a lot should have been learnt from the 1974 primary school fees waiver that was a fiasco. (Universalizing primary education in Kenya: the elusive goal).
When the government of Kenya introduced cost-sharing in Kenya in the 1980s, its duty was to recruit and pay teachers’ salaries. Meanwhile, parents bore the cost of erecting buildings, buying books and school equipment. This never worked well because in more than 30 districts, parents were unable to provide money for new buildings and other required facilities. Massive dropouts were recorded, and out of around one million pupils enrolled in class one in 1993, only around 400,000 reached class eight. Of the one million who entered class one in 1998, about 426,000 could reach class eight. Costs had therefore kept almost 3 million children out of school. (Daily Nation January 19, 2003).
According to the World Summit for Children Goals report (2000), by the end of the 1990s, Kenya had not managed to achieve universal access to basic education. This meant at least 80 per cent of primary school age children needed to attain primary education in order to bridge literacy disparities between boys and girls. The report noted that pre-school development activities, which included appropriate low-cost family and community based interventions, had also not been achieved.
Funding free primary education
Since the launch of FPE in 2003, the Kenyan government has increased its educational funding to 17.4 per cent of the national budget, although donor funding is still key in supporting it. In order to engage all stakeholders in the education sector, the government and development partners established the Kenya Education Sector Support Program (KESSP), to harmonize procedures and approaches in funding FPE. KESSP was launched in July 2005 by the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology (MoEST) as a strategic plan for 2005-2010.
The implementation of KESSP resonates with the overall goals of Education for All (EFA) and Kenya’s commitment to attaining the MDGs. Joy Karamesi of Urban Slums Basic Education Campaign (USBEC) Kenya, reported on May 11, 2010 that: “The UK, World Bank, Canada and UNICEF have been providing ‘pooled’ funding directly through the government to the Kenya Education Sector Support Programme (KESSP). The UK pledged $88.8 million (KShs. 6.75 billion) over a five-year period (starting in 2005) and the US $7 million (KShs. 532 million). UK’s Department for International Development (DfID) announced support of £55 million (KShs. 7 billion) over five years (2005 – 2010) to KESSP. An additional grant of Kshs. 582 million was agreed in 2009 to specifically target improving water/sanitation facilities for the poorest schools. Between 2005 and 2008, Kenya received $21 million (KShs. 1.6 billion) in Fast Track Initiative (FTI) Catalytic Fund Grants, a World Bank basket fund. The World Food Programme ($13.9 million) and OPEC ($9.9 million) too have contributed to making the programme a success.” (usbeckenya.org).
Mega-corruption in FPE
Despite the allocation of taxpayers’ money and donor funding, Kenya’s culture of corruption has already interfered with the implementation of FPE. On December 18, 2009 David Aduda published an article in the Nation newspaper named: ‘Exposed: how officials looted schools’ millions’. He revealed that a confidential report by the Ministry of Finance titled: ‘In-depth Risk Based Fiduciary Review, Kenya Education Sector Support Project’, indicated that KSh178 million from donors and the Kenyan taxpayer allocated in FPE had been squandered by senior Education ministry officials and school teachers. However, there were fears that more billions of shillings had been lost. Public money was used in fake training workshops, hiring of training halls, laptops and other accessories, and trainers’ fees. Dubious dealings were listed on forged receipts and handed to accounting officers at the Ministry of Education showing: “inflated payments of goods and services, double allocation and disbursement of funds to some schools and implementation of new programs like school nutrition and mobile schools in the arid and semi-arid lands.”
Aduda revealed further that the Treasury report indicated how money was wired to schools’ accounts against set procedures to deliberately let some well-placed big shots “skim off State largesse”. For instance, excess money would be sent to certain schools then shortly, they would be instructed by the Education ministry’s headquarters to “remit the excess sums to private bank accounts, minus a small cut for the headteacher.”
Another example revealed how the Education ministry paid KSh4.2 million to hire laptops, LCDs and public address systems for “workshops” in seven provinces to train headteachers and their deputies on managing instructional materials. All the seven coordinators from the seven regions were allocated KSh600,000 each to hire laptops and LCDs.
Aduda itemized the bloated expenses as such: KSh721,000 – “At one dubious training session this amount was allegedly spent on mineral water in one week for 61 participants. At KSh50, that could purchase 14,520 bottles of water.”
KSh1.5 million – “Amount set aside for computers missing at Nairobi school. Audit revealed that this and other amounts set aside for books and computers were missing”.
“An officer who had been given a GK vehicle to travel to Mombasa from Nairobi also claimed money for a return air ticket.”
KSh24,000 – “Money that was claimed for refueling a college bus, yet the training was residential and nobody used the bus.”
On February 2, 2010 Samuel Siringi wrote in the Daily Nation newspaper that the cost of textbooks stolen in the first six years of FPE was KSh1.7 billion; 5.2 million textbooks were stolen in the first six years; 58 million textbooks were bought in the past six years; and 36 million textbooks were then in use in schools. Textbook losses were attributed to wear and tear (63 per cent); theft (25 per cent); vandalism (seven per cent); and natural disasters (five per cent). To be continued tomorrow in Part 3.
Hard lessons: Learning the hard way