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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. 

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