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Economy

Poor state of public schools a cause for worry, says UN

UN: Teaching is often better in private schools than in State schools. file photo | nmg
UN: Teaching is often better in private schools than in State schools. file photo | nmg 

The widening disparity between performance in Kenya’s private and public schools is a contributor to social inequality, a United Nations report has warned.

Kenya’s public schools have remained rickety for years, weakened by acute lack of teachers who have in the past staged frequent strikes to push for higher pay.

This has seen learners in public schools trail their counterparts in private institutions, whose higher fees lock out many poor families.

A United Nations Development Programme report shows a worrying pupil to teacher ratio of 57:1 in public primary school in the period between 2010 and 2015.

The pupil-teacher reflects higher teacher workload in public schools, contributing to their poor performance. It is one measure of assessing progress towards education for all.

It says while a two-tier public and private service system is not inherently negative, a problem emerges when there are extreme variations in quality between the two options.

“Teaching is often better in private schools than in State schools -for example, in India, Kenya, Nigeria, Pakistan, South Africa and Tanzania,” said the 2016 Human Development Report. Kenya introduced the free primary education (FPE) from January 2003 with aim of boosting enrolment numbers for its poor population.

The UNDP survey shows government expenditure on education between 2010 and 2015 was 5.5 per cent of the gross domestic product.

Learning institutions have been left with the burden of increased pupil enrolment and strained resources, which has in turn affected the quality of education.

“There are wide disparities in quality between public and private education services in many developing countries. A recent review of 21 studies in Ghana, India, Kenya, Nepal, Nigeria and Pakistan found that students in private schools tend to achieve better learning outcomes than do students in state schools,” said the Report.

Teachers have been agitating for better pay for years, demands which have been charcterised by standoffs with their employer leading to frequent strikes.

Students have had to stay for months out of school as talks between the Teachers Service Commission and the teachers’ unions stalled, mostly escalating to the courts.

The survey says that while Kenya has shown progress in promotion of human development through improving access to education, health and sanitation, high levels of inequalities still remain a major concern.

It sites rural-urban imbalances, high levels of inequalities among women and men as well as migrants and refugees barriers to work, education and political participation.

The report finds that although average human development improved significantly across all regions from 1990 to 2015, one in three people worldwide continue to live in low levels of human development as measured by the Human Development Index (HDI).

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