For anyone fortunate enough to have journeyed by road through the more remote and wild areas of Kenya an enduring memory will be of primary school children in brightly coloured uniforms, some in bare feet, running to school as the sun rises.
This small vignette says two important things about a country whose GDP per capita in 2015 was around $1,600 and around 50% of whose population is unemployed and lives below the poverty line:
- Despite being a third world country with limited resources the government nevertheless strives to provide basic educational services, with free primary education for all.
- The citizens view the need for an education for their children as a priority.
The current system of education, known as 8-4-4, was introduced in 1985 and follows a model of 8 years of primary education, 4 years of secondary and 4 years of tertiary.
Educationalists the world over constantly want to tinker with their systems and curriculum and those in Kenya are no exception.
And with good reason.
The 8-4-4 system is deeply flawed as it imbibes a culture of rote learning, cramming, endless exams, mock exams and mocks for the mocks.
Creativity, the freedom to question, to explore or to experience the very things that should be fundamental to a child’s education are stifled or non-existent and, as a result, the products of the system are not equipped nor prepared for any of the subsequent stages in their lives.
The statistics are stark: in 2000 6.1 million children attended primary school. By 2013 that figure had risen to 10.2 million but the NER (Net Enrolment Rate) into secondary schooling was only 33.1%, revealing that access to secondary school remains very low. To gain entry into a secondary school the minimum requirement for a pupil is to attain a mean score of 250 marks in the KCPE (Kenya Certificate of Primary Education) . To be offered a place in one of the sought after, elite, National Secondary Schools the minimum requirement jumps to 350. In both cases that’s the easy part.
The EACDT Character Development Programme gives the children hope for their future.
Finding the funding is the major challenge for the majority of Kenyan families as secondary education is not free. Once uniforms, books and other essentials are factored in schools fees range from around $600-$900 per year for four years.
Little wonder then that the take up rate for secondary school is so low.
It gets worse. Comments on 31 March 2016 attributed to the Cabinet Secretary for Education reveal that on average 900,000 pupils who enter Standard 1 (1st year of secondary school) drop out of school before completing Standard 4 and a whopping 50% of those who do complete Standard 4 never acquire the requisite grades to pursue tertiary education. He remarked: “if only one third of pupils make basic university entrance, I have to evaluate my curriculum”.
The corridors of power at governmental level and the statistics they produce tell a cold and sanitized story of an urgent need for change. The anecdotal evidence gleaned by everyone working for EACDT on the ground, in 16 Nairobi schools, working with over 4,000 boys and girls from extremely challenged social and economic backgrounds, puts a real and compelling human face to the reality they experience.
In many of the schools in which we work Feed The Children provides lunch, the one meal a day that the children eat. In one, there are over 80 pupils in a Standard 8 class, the final exam year that will determine whether they gain enough marks to get into secondary school. In another school, only 24 teachers (including the Head and Deputy Head) are responsible for over 1,200 boys and girls, many of whom are transient refugees from Somalia. In another, up to 5 pupils share one desk, there are no teaching aids, reading books….the list goes on.
Despite all this a number of things remain constant: the children’s’ desire to learn and the parental struggles and sacrifices to give them the chance to learn; the amazing dedication of the vast majority of the teachers to do the best they can for the children under their care; and the resilience of the human spirit to grasp an opportunity.
EACDT is helping to provide that opportunity.