Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Free Education, For Those Who Can Afford It

If you follow the official literature and commentaries on Kenyan education, you may think that all primary school age children get free schooling. If you go into it in a little more depth, you will find that there are many hidden costs such as 'extra' tuition, which the children have to attend, shoes and uniforms, which have to be worn, exams, materials and various other items.

Therefore, many poorer children fall through the loop. Having no school fees is irrelevant for the parents who are unable to meet the additional costs. Unknown numbers of children don't go to school or don't go to school very much because their families are too poor. The Kenyan government is not too keen to admit to the existence of these children, of course. They enjoy the praise they receive from the press and from foreign donors.

Added to these children of poor families, there are orphans and other children who have been abandoned or who don't have people to provide everything they need. There are well over one million, perhaps as many as two million. There are street children, children who start school so late that they will never catch up and will drop out early, there are children who are sent out to work for much or all of the time they are supposed to be at school.

All in all, the Kenyan government is quite shy about anything that could be called bad news. The recent census may not even account for all the children in this country. It may remain difficult to know how many children are not at school or who don't receive much schooling before they become too old to attend school.

Yesterday, we were in Rhonda again, this time to visit a children's home. There are 120 children being schooled there, 20 of whom live there all the time. Because this children's home is not a public school, they receive nothing towards the children's schooling. There are many such homes around the country. No one has any idea how many, exactly. And the government will not be so keen to talk about these either.

So, for all the money that is said to be spent on 'free' primary education, if would be interesting to know how many really benefit, how many don't get anything and if it's true, as it appears to be, that only the better off get to go to school. It appears that those with least and those who are under the most pressure are also least likely to be able to afford the costs of 'free' education.


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