Why demolish schools when we have a few?
More than 200,000 children in Nairobi are not benefiting from free primary education, according to a new report by the Africa Population and Health Research Centre.
It attributes this to two reasons:
1. Very few schools in the slums to accommodate the huge number of children who need education;
2. Parents too poor to afford the extra levies imposed by the few schools that do exist.
Even where schools are accessible and free, other costs such as textbooks, lunches and uniforms represent a significant cost for poor parents, the report notes.
Because they cannot raise the levies, slum parents tend to shun the public primary schools and turn instead to informal schools which charge about Sh500, says Janet Muthoni-Ouko of the Elimu Yetu Coalition.
But even there, children were regularly pulled out of school for long periods because the parents still found it hard to raise the charges.
“Cost items are the biggest barrier to accessing free primary education. Parents have to pay admission fees of about Sh2,500 in these schools and will be asked to bring a desk and they also have to buy other items like uniforms. You will find these children in the street begging or trying to make some money rather than being in school,” says Ms Muthoni-Ouko.
It is therefore ironic that the county government wants to demolish schools in these slums because they are too dilapidated.
We would have expected the county to move quickly to refurbish the dilapidated schools, if only to keep these disadvantaged children in classes as it works on plans to build better ones.
The plan to bring down 20 public schools must be approached with caution because it might compound the situation for thousands of slum children who are unable to benefit from free education due to a shortage of schools.
Even as it strives to build more schools, the county ought to address the shortfalls in the free education programme by partnering with NGOs like UNICEF and World Vision to offer meals and learning materials.
That way, the county would be able to give every child its Constitutional right to free and accessible education.