EDITORIAL: Ensure quality in rollout of free secondary education

Pupils of St George's Primary School after finishing their last KCPE paper. PHOTO | Francis Nderitu | NMG
Pupils of St George's Primary School after finishing their last KCPE paper. PHOTO | Francis Nderitu | NMG 

The country is set to make history this week with the commencement of free learning in secondary schools.

The State targets to ease the burden on parents and guardians by footing Sh22,844 in tuition fees for each student and improving the transition rates from primary to secondary schools. Day schooling will be free under this arrangement.

While this may feel good, experience from the introduction of free primary education in 2003 gives reason for concern. Those tasked with implementing the scheme must be prepared to deal with an expected barrage of challenges.

Student enrolment in secondary schools will certainly jump with the elimination of tuition costs and the Education ministry and administrators of the various institutions must plan for it to guarantee quality learning.

The introduction of free primary education came with an array of unpleasant realities including overstretched learning and accommodation facilities.

Pupil-to-teacher ratios also worsened, dealing a blow to quality learning. The whole scheme was further characterized by delayed disbursement of government funds, which affected learning.

There is a risk of this replicating in the free secondary school education programme if urgent steps are not taken to address the present shortage of teachers as well as classrooms and other facilities including libraries and laboratories.

It is estimated that secondary schools already have a shortage of about 50,000 teachers yet it is anticipated that about 903,200 students would be joining public secondary schools and 100,322 private ones, up from 700,000 in 2016.

The government hopes to employ more than 10,000 teachers ahead of the roll out of the free secondary education.

The Education ministry and the Teachers Service Commission (TSC) must quickly deal with this massive shortage of teachers and facilities to safeguard the relevance of the free secondary education programme.

It would be senseless herding thousands of students into secondary schools without enough teachers and facilities. This would only add to the present crisis where about 1 million have failed to attain cut-off points for university admission in the last two years alone.