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Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Lessons from Free Primary Education should inform Free Secondary Education

Narrowly defined, politics is about conflict between or among groups competing to acquire or retain power. In its broader application, politics defines the complex relations in a society. It is about who gets what, where, when and how much.

At its best, public policy is perhaps the most efficient, transparent way by which politics allocates public goods and services; roads, water, health centres and doctors, electricity, schools and teachers. The structure of modern government is designed ensure responsive design of public policy to guarantee efficient and equitable allocation of public goods.

But policymaking is seldom simple. It is a complex enterprise, which must contend with uncertainty, non-linear feedback and unintended consequences. Any policy outcome we intend to deliver through public investment is inherently enmeshed in a complex web of relationships with a legion of determinant factors.

But policymakers, bureaucrats or politicians, are educated and accustomed to simple, linear approaches of input and output or cause and effect. An example of simplistic policy expectations is that free education will invariably expand access. But we know the consequences of such a well-intended policy prescription are far reaching. Moreover, free maternity care will not necessarily raise the number of pregnant women choosing to deliver in a healthcare centre.

Policy decisions based partial or incomplete understanding of the context is at best mediocre or out rightly wrong headed. Consider the policy on free primary education (FPE), which was introduced in 2003. Some of the unintended outcomes of this seminal policy include; an (perceived) inexorable decline of quality of learning as measured by reading, writing and math, and increase in enrollment and unprecedented rise in tuition.

The flourishing of private primary schools can be explained partially by the fact that relatively privileged parents who sent their children to schools in neighborhood like Kilimani, Kileleshwa and Lavington transferred their children to private schools, avoiding the influx of children from low-income backgrounds. Moreover, studies show that when the combined monthly household income reaches Ksh. 40,000, parents send their children to private schools.

In this silly election season, the main political groupings Jubilee and NASA have both promised free secondary education (FSE). Again, the policy intention is noble – expansion of access and the aspiration to ensure that every Kenyan child completes secondary education. The cost of educating a child in Kenya’s top national schools is beyond the means of ordinary families.

What have we learned from nearly two decades of FPE? Waiving tuition did not dramatically increase enrollment in primary school. The dominant perception is that the quality of education is lower in public primary schools. The demand for and investment in private primary schools sored dramatically with the introduction of FPE. The glorious era of elite public schools is nigh.

Will free secondary education raise enrollment without eroding quality or increasing demand for costly private secondary schools? Like FPE, FSE will likely exacerbate inequality among Kenyan children by making access to quality education the preserve of middle and affluent classes.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Africa needs skilled workers, great citizens and ethical leaders

The findings of the East Africa youth survey conducted by the East Africa Institute were both hopeful and worrying. Following the study, the interest in the plight of the youth and concerns about the state of our common future has been unrelenting.

Unemployment among youth, especially rural woman, is worryingly high. The vast majority of the 10 million African youth who enter the job market annually are either unemployed or underemployed.

While youth are optimistic about the future – which they believe will bring more jobs, better access to quality health and education – they are strongly inclined to give or take a bribe, evade taxes and engage in electoral fraud.

The political and bureaucratic processes lack both imagination and creativity to harness the unprecedented abundance of Africa’s youthful human capital. The African Union’s African Youth Charter signed in 2006 remains an innocuous document. Conversations across the continent, from Accra to Nairobi are unanimous about a future in peril.

The state of Africa’s youth is not strong because the youth are not willing to step up to the plate. The state of Africa’s youth is feeble because we don’t care enough and think someone else will deal with it. The corridors of public offices on the continent are teeming with highly paid consultants, donors and foreign NGOs grappling with Africa’s problems.

Yes we need help. But the help we receive cannot be modeled on the classical industrial age paradigm. Our path to prosperity and a secure future where youth thrive must be powered by Africa’s own unique, novel and contextually relevant ideas.

There is not an overabundance of easy solutions. Building inclusive prosperity, providing African youth with the right skills and creating well-paying jobs will demand everything of our politicians and policy makers. It will demand more than hollow charters or declarations from the African Union.

First off, our education system, at all levels, must prepare our youth for an unknown future. We must educate for a post-knowledge economy. Standardized tests powered by rote learning and unthinking regurgitation must be replaced by an orientation to analytical reasoning, experimentation, discovery and problem solving. Creativity and innovation, not basic numeracy and literacy must become goal of education.

But our education must prepare young Africans not just for the workplace. Great citizens and ethical leaders are sorely needed on the continent. Citizenship is more than nationality or ethnic ties. Citizenship is a sacred obligation to service, a commitment to common aims and a constitutional injunction to civically engage.

Ethics is about rectitude. It is about values. An ethical leader is honorable, persuaded by decency and an invariable commitment to justice. Ethical leadership springs from the wells of great and vigilant citizenship.

A strong predisposition among youth to bribery, tax evasion and electoral fraud is an indictment on our societies. It betrays a fundamental and simultaneous failure of citizenship and leadership on the adult side of the aisle. Ours is a case of a rotten barrel spoiling a bumper crop of apples. Fix the barrel.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Crisis of leadership in a complex, changing world

A Google search with the words “crisis of leadership” is revealing. It returns 639,000 hits for books, 4.4 million news stories and about 1.1 million videos. Hundreds of thousands of images of consequential historical figures like Mahatma Gandhi, Winston Churchill, Nelson Mandela, Lincoln and Martin Luther king pop up.

As a social construct, leadership is as much obfuscated and illuminated by scholars in management, political science and social theory. Eugene E. Jennings in his book An Anatomy of Leadership suggests that leadership is an “omnibus term” deployed without discrimination to roles as varied as sports coach, politician, committee chairperson, corporate executive, and school headmaster.

Today we bemoan failure of leadership in every sector, and especially in the government, media, NGOs – both local and international – business, political parties, multilateral organizations like the World Bank and the United Nations.

I will focus on political leadership. On the one hand rising inequality and poverty, terrorism, global climate crisis and immigration have created near unanimous mistrust of government and political leaders. On the other hand increasing change, complexity and uncertainty in an intensely globalized world have converged to produce an unprecedented demand for exemplary political leadership at local, regional and global scales.

Traditionally, leadership denotes a state or position of influence. Understanding political leadership, its failure or success, must take cognizance of the fact that leadership is a relationship between two parties, the leader or the persons exerting influence and the persons influenced.

More importantly, a functional relationship exists between the leader and the follower. Some early scholars have characterized the relationship as a structured, institutionalized pattern of authority and subservience. This was certainly true in imperial Europe, in the dark ages of colonialism and dictatorship in much of the developing world.

However the construct of authority and subservience remains the defining model of leadership. Globally, political leaders have failed to recognize that leadership must be about influence and less about power or authority. In a republic as opposed to a monarchy or a colony, we have citizens and representatives, not subjects and potentates. Citizens are the custodians of sovereign power, which they donate to elected representative – political leaders.

In my view at the heart of the crisis of leadership is the fact that political leaders are ossified in the imperial, colonial era. Even in large democracies like the US we see spectacular displays of envy of autocracy by President Donald Trump, who has great admiration for Vladimir Putin’s style of leadership.  

The context of political leadership has changed, and radically so. For example Donald Trump’s decision to exit the Paris Accord is now seen as temporary absence of the US as State Party. Nearly 100 cities, five stares, six more to join and hundreds of leading firms have vowed to unite behind the Paris Accord.

Those who sit at the zenith of political organizations must uphold the ideals of democracy, adapt and innovate to meet the demands of a dynamic, pluralistic, globalized and multipolar world.   

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Resolve to combat global warming must not falter

On November 6, 2012 Donald J. Trump tweeted, “The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive”. He promised to “cancel the Paris Climate Agreement and stop all payments of US tax dollars to UN global warming programs.

On June 1, 2017, President Trump announced that the United States would withdraw from the Paris Climate Accord.

According to Trump, the onerous energy restrictions of the Paris Accord could cost the US $3 trillion in lost GDP, 6.5 million industrial jobs and households would have $7,000 less income. These statistics are staggering. Trump’s source is the National Economic Research Associates. As you would expect, the assumptions behind these numbers have been rigorously contested.

According to President Trump,  “withdrawal from the agreement represents a reassertion of America’s sovereignty”. And Trump made it clear that he “was elected to represent the citizens of Pittsburgh, not Paris”. And it was time to make America great again.

Across the world, Trump’s decision to exit the Paris Climate Accord has been met with robust defiance and criticism. Speaking in English, French President Emmanuel Macron said, "I do respect this decision but I do think it is an actual mistake both for the US and for our planet… Wherever we live, whoever we are, we all share the same responsibility: make our planet great again."

In a joint statement, the EU and China termed Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris Climate Accord a “big mistake”. It is expected that closer cooperation between China and the EU will ramp up research and investments and accelerate transition into a low carbon economy.

Condemnation was swift in the US. Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer called Trump’s decision a “devastating failure of historic proportions”. Hillary Clinton said the decision to exit the Paris Accord was a “historic mistake that leaves American workers behind”. Former President Obama, who spent years negotiating the landmark agreement, said the Trump administration joined a small band of nations that “reject the future”.

A group of 180 mayors have joined 10 governors in denouncing President Trump's decision to withdraw the country from the Paris Climate Accord. The mayors have vowed to “adopt, honor and uphold commitments to the goals enshrined in the Paris Agreement”. Over 80 university presidents and 100 businesses have also joined the Climate Mayors. Michael Bloomberg, former New York Mayor said, “We’re going to do everything America would have done if it had stayed committed.” Mayor Bloomberg will personally pay the $15 million the United Nations will lose after Trump exits the Paris Accord.

A new green economy beckons. But President Trump remains entrenched in the dungeons of fossil fuels. Transition to green energy will create millions of new jobs and lift millions across the globe out of poverty. The resolve to combat dangerous warming is unflinching. We must make our planet great again! 


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