The Gusto In The Education Sector Reforms Must Be Sustained


Globally, there are today about 264 million children and youth not going to school. This is according to the Global Education Monitoring (GEM) Report of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). One can imagine what amount of human resource is wasted if these children and youth fail to access education. We can also imagine the amount of resources and concerted efforts required to address this gap. According to the 2017 Economic Survey, Kenya’s net enrollment rate (NER) for primary schools was at 88.1% in 2012 and 2013, and improving to 88.2%, 88.4% and 89.2% in 2014, 2015 and 2016 respectively. Looking at primary-secondary transition rate, the country recorded 64.5%, 74.7%, 76.1%, 81.9% and 81.3% in the same period. Though our ratios can be said to be relatively high, we are part of the 264 million global statistics.

The implication is that like many other countries, we have to progressively put into place measures to address the many challenges facing our education sector. As a fact, education is a critical ingredient of national development as it is a key determinant of the quality and capacity of human resources necessary to drive a country’s development. In spite of this central role, countries across the world continue to face a myriad of challenges in their respective education sectors. In this regard, education remains a perennially important agenda which has attracted a lot of global attention and support over the years.

Tracing back to the “World Conference on Education for All” held in Jomtien, Thailand in March 1990, the meeting was historical as the “World Declaration on Education for All” adopted in the conference re-affirmed the notion of education as a fundamental human right in line with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted in 1948, which declared that “everyone has a right to education”.

At the beginning of this millennium, the global efforts towards education for all were further bolstered by the commitments made within the framework of goal number 2 of Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) on achieving universal primary education. The MDGs came in at time when our statistics had deteriorated through the years. For instance, the NER had reduced from 98% in 1978 to 75% by 1999 and about 70.7% in 2001.

We must therefore give credit to the positive efforts through which free primary education (FPE) was conceptualized and subsequently operationalized in January 2003. One of the key and most impactful results of the introduction of the FPE was an increase in enrollment from 5.9 million children in 2002 to 7.4 million in 2004, a dramatic increase by 1.5 million.

Since 2003, the country has witnessed various reforms in the education sector. However, the reforms have had their good and bad moments – thanks to our poor record of sustaining reforms. Thanks to the appointment of Fred Matiang’i as the Cabinet Secretary for Education in 2015, reforms in the sector were reinvigorated. Classic examples of some of the reforms he initiated and steered are: an overhaul of the curriculum, with the aim of addressing mismatches between the curriculum and the needs of the market; and radical improvement in the conduct of national examinations, a feat that was not easy after long periods of infiltration by exam leakage cartels.

Of course, the reforms have not come in cheap. The gross total expenditure of the education sector has risen from about Ksh. 260.1 billion in 2012/13 financial year to Ksh. 374.9 billion in 2017/18, an increment of 44 percent. To understand the kind of resources going into the sector, the 2017/18 allocation of Ksh. 374.9 billion represents 23% of the total national budget. The ratio is expected to increase to 25.4% and 25.2% in 2018/19 and 2019/20 financial years respectively. Comparatively, in 2017/18, the health sector was allocated 3.8% of the total budget and is expected to rise to 4.1% in both 2018/19 and 2019/20. Again, Energy, Infrastructure and ICT sectors combined took 25.5% percent of the budget in 2017/18, with a projected reduction to 24.1% and 23.8% respectively in 2019/20.

In sum, singularly, the education sector is taking a quarter of the national budgetary resources. Yet, the sector needs are even greater, what with the frequent strikes by teachers and university lecturers in agitation for higher salary perks. This notwithstanding, I opine that that the rationale for whatever amount of investment in the sector should be seen in the context of the past challenges coupled with the attendant strategic issues and the returns expected from the ongoing reforms; including but not limited to how the sector will meet the country’s current, medium and long-term human resource needs.

Certainly, the country’s development aspirations necessitate progressive improvement of our human resource capacity. Indeed, realizing the economic transformation envisioned in our development blue-prints requires that we improve the quality and relevance of the skills of our workforce, and in particular the youth, upon whom the country will depend on in the medium and long-term.

As such, the education sector must effectively deploy strategies that will align with the SDG number 4 that seeks to ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote life-long learning opportunities for all. Here, the thematic target areas are wide ranging from childhood education to technical, vocational, tertiary and adult education; and equity issues and facilities just to mention but a few. What this portends is that we must brace ourselves for and keep awake to a prolonged season of continued education reforms in Kenya.

There are many priorities to focus on, but in my opinion, key areas of attention should include: improvement of infrastructure in learning institutions to address existing gaps and ease of strain of the existing facilities; deepening curriculum and examination assessment reforms at all levels;  enhancement of grants to improve access to education particularly for the poor; integration of ICT at all levels; promotion of science, technology and innovation; provision of teaching and learning material, especially for the newly rolled-out curriculum; improving and expanding the Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) Colleges with a clear focus on equipping the youth with relevant skills required to transform our labourforce; addressing equity issues; and improving governance to minimize misappropriation of funds in the sector institutions.

Kenyans are already enjoying some fruits from the reforms initiated since early 2000, and carry even greater expectations that coherent reforms will be sustained in all levels of education. This way, we can improve our NER, realize effective progression of learners from one level to another and churn out an appropriately skilled labourforce that can drive the ever elusive industrial transformation in this country. Furthermore, recognizing that education underpins all the 17 SDGs, the work of the Ministry of Education needs to be anchored on innovative and integrated planning. The positive thing is that there is some fair level of goodwill among Kenyans and other local and international stakeholders. Moreover, although the education largely remains the responsibility of the National Government, opportunities for collaboration with County Governments should be exploited towards a more effective and efficient education sector. Over to you Amb. Amina Mohamed.

The Writer is a Management Consultant

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