Former South African President Nelson Mandela said that education is the most powerful tool that one can use to change the world. That simple statement rings true today as it did when it was initially uttered.
Even in 2015 when the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), as an ambitious agenda of transforming the world by seeking to end poverty, eliminate degradation and eliminate inequality. The Agenda recognised the critical role of education in this task, hence committed the world nations to the provision of inclusive and equitable quality education at all levels.
In discussing the SDGs, the resolution adopted by the General Assembly pointed to the negative effects of poverty on the quest for quality education. Statistics indicate that kids from poor families are four times more likely to be out of school than those from rich households, primarily due to poverty. Since education is there way of moving out of the poverty trap, the lack of access to education compounds the situation.
Kenya’s 2019 Sessional Paper Number 1 of 2019 on education seeks to reform the sector to ensure delivery of quality, relevant and inclusive education and training for sustainable development. The discussions around the Competence Based Curriculum are efforts towards ensuring that education delivers on the goals of helping develop society in a sustainable manner and contribute to the quest to eradicate all forms of poverty.
Despite the progress that the country has made to deal with the poverty related hindrances to many children and their families, including the introduction of free primary education during the Narc government under President Mwai Kibaki, poverty still acts as a road block to many poor and bright students.
Currently, students in day schools pay Sh 9,000 as fees per year. This sum though is still hefty for some poor families. Several bursary schemes exist across the country to help support some of the deserving and dire cases. Six months ago, a group of professionals from my village came together to set up an education fund in aid of needy and bright students from the area.
After a long and meticulous process, we eventually had a list of 68 beneficiaries, whom we issued with cheques last weekend. Their stories, the smiles on their faces demonstrated that the contribution we were making was helping bridge the gap between aspirations and reality.
It confirmed that properly implemented, little resources can help address some of the needy cases we have in our society as far as education is concerned. It is important that professionals work together to help address some of these challenges. In doing so, working together with all stakeholders, avoiding politicization of the process and ensuring there is transparency and equity as critical.
There is another more fundamental lesson. President Uhuru Kenyatta set out the Big Four Agenda after the 2017 elections. Education does not feature on the big four list. However, when you assess the financial investments and policy reforms you notice that education continues to receive priority treatment. On reflection, it might be more germane to have made it one of the Big Four Agenda. This way the ongoing reforms would be seen within the political prioritisation of the President that is necessary.
In addition, strategies would require to be designed to ensure that initiatives such as the one we had in my rural village and which continue to be undertaken across the country by several other groups would be mainstreamed.
Government on its own cannot meet the demands and deliver on the tasks required to ensure that the constitutional promise of education as a human right is realised and the international commitment of quality and inclusivity by addressing the poverty hindrances are dealt with.
As debate on the implementation of the reforms in the education sector continues, Cabinet Secretary George Magoha needs to draw from his experience from his high school days and his work at the University of Nairobi to bring all stakeholders on the journey towards making education a top priority for the country.