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Monday, December 22, 2014

kenya needs a robust debate on devolution of education

For over fifty years, our education systems has been embedded in the political economy of a hegemonic state. Today access to quality education, outcomes of human, cultural, social and economic capital mirror the patterns of political patronage and the ethnic zero sum game of competition for and distribution of the so-called national cake.

Access to educational resources explains more than ninety percent of difference in economic and wellbeing outcomes among Kenya’s ethnic groups. Take a moment and think about the geographic distribution of the so-called national schools? My definition of national schools does not include the under-resourced former district and provincial schools that were recently assigned national school status.

The Kenyan state, through successive regimes since independence, has failed to allocate in an inclusive manner the critical educational resources that would enable equitable social mobility. Just like roads, water, electricity and health services, vested political interest by powerful Nairobi elites has always determined who enrolls, whether they complete and how much our children learn in school.

We must now re-think the role of the national government in education. The role of the distant state authority needs to be re-examined in the context of devolution. Moreover, we must be especially mindful of the track record of the national government with respect to equitable distribution and social inclusion in provision of vital social services over the last 51 years.

What we have seen in the past 50 years in the education sector is an inordinate burden of bureaucracy, politicisation and capture by special interest, inefficiency, and the hubris of one size-fit-all, which has led to unconscionable inequality in educational outcomes. Counties like Turkana, Marsabit, Tana River, Kwale and Mombasa have the scars to prove that this model does not work.

Devolution education is a plausible remedy. Fundamentally, education is about building relevant human capital, which is then deployed to drive cultural and economic capital for development. Counties are in the best position to articulate the fit between education and urgent local needs. By re-defining accountability we can prevent capture of the delivery of education by vested political interests. Moreover, decentralising education could make it difficult for schools to “game” the system when performance and accountability standards are not set at the national level and include critical parameters like social inclusion and local human capital formation.

Decentralising education does not take away the role of the national government. In fact, it makes the role of government much clearer. The national government would be responsible for defining the national curriculum framework. This would include core curriculum themes, which focus on values, ethics and civic responsibility. The national government would be responsible for defining exit competencies at all levels of the education system. This is consistent with the role of the national government in education, as stipulated in the fourth schedule of the constitution.

Essentially, devolving education is about increasing the role of local stakeholders and moving away from the hierarchical input-oriented governance to an outcome-oriented approach where the central government steers from a distance. Devolving education is not undermining the power of the state. It is about strengthening local accountability in the provision of national public goods. It is about making social inclusion and local capital formation critical to accountability in educational outcomes.

In a decentralised education regime, the government would the responsible for determining standards for teacher education, including a national certification program for both primary and secondary school teachers. This would also include setting very high academic standards for getting into the teaching profession. Teaching can no longer be the profession of the not so bright amongst us.

In a decentralised education regime, the government would be obligated to set up an education equalisation fund to improve school infrastructure. This allocation would be based on long-term weighted average mean scores (from 1963) in all national standardised tests. Counties with the lowest scores would be assigned the highest budget. Local stakeholders, including parents and students would have to determine how the resources are allocated.

Perhaps our greatest achievement in 50 years is the 2010 constitution, which vests sovereign power in the people of Kenya. It is we the people, who delegate authority to the legislature, the executive at national and county levels, and to the judiciary. What level of government should carry the greatest responsibility for preparing our youth for the future? Time for debate is now.

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