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Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Equitable access to quality education must be a birthright

The 2017 KCPE results are out. In a truly Kenyan way God and prayers, hard work and focus were invoked with profusion to explain why 9,846 pupils scored above the magic 400 out the maximum 500 marks.

Some 2,360 children scored below 100 marks will not be attributing their scores to a higher power or indebted to the love and support from their teachers and family. However, this is significant improvement compared to 10,000 candidates who scored below the 100 mark in 2013.

As a proportion of total enrollment, the number of pupils who scored above 400 marks in 2017 KCPE increased by a whooping 82 percent compared to 2016. This is an unprecedented improvement between any successive years. Moreover, the proportion of candidates who scored 400 marks is the highest in the recent history of KCPE. There is reason for some elation across the land.

But the overall performance across the country demonstrates persistent and shameful inequality. Students in private, public boarding and urban schools still score higher grades than their counterparts in public day and rural schools.  For example, the top 20 students in Nairobi whose mean score is 434 are drawn from just 10 elite private schools in Nairobi.

A cursory analysis of top 200 candidates reveals that about 52 percent of them are from primary schools located in Nairobi. About 82 percent of the top 200 students are from schools in just eight counties; Nairobi, Kakamega, Kiambu, Laikipia, Nakuru, Kajiado Kericho and Embu. Uneven educational outcomes and inequitable distribution of education resources has been persistent.

Going forward two things are worth thinking about. First, as we transition from a highly selective secondary school placement to 100 percent transition from primary to high school. We must define and pay attention to critical grade progression milestones. Primary schools must lay a universal and equitable foundation for numeracy and literacy for all our children.

Second, investing in free day secondary education is a chance for us to eliminate the colonial bias that continues to favor elite public boarding secondary schools, which are now the preserve of middle-income families who can afford to send their children to private primary schools.

More importantly, to eliminate the staggering inequality in education outcomes at the county and sub-county levels we should transfer some responsibility for education, especially infrastructure and learning resources, to the counties. County governments are in the best position to prioritize investments in education, including equitable posting of teachers.

The urban, boarding and private school advantage must be eliminated totally. We have created a system where education excellence is largely the privilege of girls and boys born to families that live in urban areas and children whose parents can pay tuition in private schools or public boarding schools. High quality education must be the birthright of every Kenyan child regardless of who their parents are or where they live.

Guaranteeing every Kenyan child unfettered access to high quality education could be a most fitting and durable presidential legacy. 

Time to evaluate and strengthen devolution

Somehow we believe our Constitution is one of the most progressive on the African continent. However, I have not seen any piece of scholarship on comparative institutions and governance capability that would qualify of back this belief. But I think the idea of devolution is brilliant.

Article 6(1) of the Constitution provides that “ The territory of Kenya is divided into the counties (47counties) specified in the First Schedule”. In Article 6(2) the Constitution states, “ The governments at the national and county levels are distinct and inter-dependent and shall conduct their relations on the basis of consultation and cooperation.

Years of whim and political bias created unconscionable inequalities in our country. Hence, one of the objectives of devolution under Article 174(f) is “to promote social and economic development and the provision of proximate, easily accessible services through out Kenya.

Article 186 and the Fourth Schedule specify the respective functions and powers of the national and county governments. Among the devolved functions include: county planning and development, including generating and maintaining statistics; agriculture, county health services, trade development and regulation and pre-primary education and village polytechnics.

The national government controls the policy, regulation, planning and finance, which undergird the devolved functions. The national government also controls the governance and management of urban areas and cities.  Article 187 provides guidelines on transfer of functions and powers between national and county levels of government.

But is devolution working? It is time to evaluate devolution. What has worked or failed where and why? For example, are the budget resources as currently provided capable of delivering quality health care? Can the county governments as currently constituted drive the investments necessary to deliver agricultural transformation?

Moreover, do the counties have the resources and associated incentives to provide vibrant environments that promote enterprise, trade and efficient markets? To what extent is national economic policy, planning and public investment informed by county priorities and plans? Similarly, are county level priorities in consonance with national development priorities, e.g., Vision 2030, and especially the medium term plans (MTP)?  

Article 189(1)(c) provides that “Governments at either levels shall liaise for the purpose of exchanging information, coordinating policies and enhancing capacities. How much capacity building and technical assistance to counties is happening?

Think of counties as business units, each with a set of unique and complementary endowments. We can design and test spatially explicit policies and programs that respond to local challenges and opportunities, while leveraging the comparative advantage presented by contiguous counties. 

In line with the objectives of the National Spatial Plan 2015-2045, we must develop regional and county plans that harness respective endowments of counties in order leverage economies of scale and foster regional economic integration.

We must build stronger cooperation and coordination between the national and county governments. Counties must be well resourced, with adequate human, financial and physical resources. As they get stronger, counties must become socio-economic growth engines that deliver equitable prosperity for all Kenyans everywhere.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Big data presents opportunity for innovation in policy making

Public policy wonks and aficionados of bureaucracy swear by evidence-based decision making. However, it is also undeniable that critical public policies seldom achieve intended outcomes. More often, public policies are associated with either unintended consequences or ambiguous outcomes. Whenever policies succeed or fail, it is unclear for whom and why.

For example, free primary education policy implemented in all EAC member states has not produced access everywhere. Moreover, learning outcomes are uneven and contested. Various agricultural policy provisions have not improved national food and nutritional security or eliminated the need to import primary food commodities. Moreover, policies and programs aimed at improving maternal, neonatal and child health have produced mixed results.

Sound evidence is necessary but not sufficient to produce desired, equitable wellbeing outcomes as consequence of policy or program implementation. The abundance of misalignment of policy objectives and policy outcomes suggests that existing evidence-based approaches to policy making do not address the critical elements across the policy cycle, which are necessary for effective program or policy implementation and results or impact

Moreover, the context of policymaking has become more complex. Public participation and bottom up actions are becoming increasingly important, often required by law. Citizens are more literate, well informed and actively engaged in the policy formulation and implementation process as well as government decisions and actions. More and more, with the ubiquity of social media platforms and with devolved levels of government, citizens have become agents of good governance and not passive beneficiaries.

Big data – the burst in variety, velocity and volume of data, including growing prominence of unstructured, non-sampled data available on social media – is providing new opportunities for innovation in the policy cycle, and especially with a huge potential to improve policy effectiveness. The emergence of big data has made possible the development of tools, including statistical and geospatial analysis, sentiment analysis and visualization, which aim to support key stakeholders at every stage of the policy cycle hence facilitating hindsight, deepening insight and informing foresight.

While traditional policy analysis has been devoted to retrospective (ex post) analysis, the combination of complexity thinking and big data analytics will enable a critical addition to the toolbox, prospective (ex ante) analysis, which essentially informs foresight hence, defining expected policy impacts, while enabling near real time policy/program evaluation and refinement during implementation.

Policy or program design and implementation is on the cusp of a fundamental leap; from decision-based approaches to an exciting new dawn of intelligence-based models that are powered by big data analytics.

Big data therefore provides an invaluable companion for program development and design, identification of indictors for program monitoring and evaluation as well as stakeholder mapping.

In my view big data analytics presents an opportunity for policy makers and bureaucrats, as well as big donor agencies to think and design policies and programs as testable change hypothesis. Moreover, implementation locations provide unique geographic, socio-economic and institutional arenas for real world experimentation, testing and learning innovation in policy formulation and implementation.

We must halt the decline of our universities

The report on quality audit of university education by Kenya’s Commission for University Education (CUE) was a sobering indictment of the state of university education. The problems are grave and range from missing grades to the quality faculty staff to widespread academic fraud.

The findings of the CUE report, which was released early this year, demands that bold actions must be taken to restore the credibility of Kenya’s universities. This is especially critical in the age of a competitive knowledge-based global economy. Our true and most dependable resource is the quality of our human capital. We cannot afford to gamble with the future of our youth.

The time to act to restore confidence in public universities and secure the future of our country is now. Last week Dr. Matiangi, CS Education, urged stakeholders to re-examine how public universities are run. According to Dr. Matiangi, a lot of “bad things” are happening in our universities and the government could no longer “live with the kind of wastage and corruption that thrives in our universities”.

Dr. Matiangi has signaled a raft of reforms. These include tightening financial management. For example, the Universities Funding Board will manage financial disbursements. Moreover, all tuition revenue from parallel programs will be remitted to the national treasury. In 2015, Treasury CS revealed that public universities accounted for the largest share of “missing billions” of internally generated funds.

Public universities have not been transparent about their staffing levels. A recent audit revealed that all 31 public universities were not honest about the number of employees they have, inflating the figures by 2,513. In his recommendation for reform, CS Matiangi wants all support staff to be hired on contracts as opposed to the current terms, which are permanent appointments. 

Furthermore, Dr. Matiangi recommends that junior academic staff, tutorial fellows and lecturers, should be hired on short contract basis. Only senior lecturers and the professoriate will be hired on permanent and pensionable terms. As one would expect, this will be resisted by the Universities’ Academic Staff Union.

The reforms proposed by CS Matiangi can make a huge difference. One would hope that the Universities Funding Board does not become a painful, inscrutable new cuticle of bureaucracy, which in time becomes infected with Kenya’s most inevitable afflictions, corruption and ineptitude.  

The transition of terms of employment from permanent to fleeting contracts must be managed with sensitivity. Untidy contracts for junior faculty could dry out the supply of a dynamic and motivated reservoir of future professors. We must be clear about the criteria for promotion to the ranks of senior lecturer – the golden gate into permanency. Dr. Matiangi must tread carefully here.

That Dr. Matiangi’s reforms are well meaning is not in doubt. What is in doubt is whether these reforms can be executed conscientiously. The future is summoning all of us to do the right thing by our children. Universities cannot be havens for corruption and fraud. Universities must the pillars of rectitude and moral clarity.


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