As noted above, the Kenya government first expressed its intention to offer free primary education almost four decades ago. Education was declared free for children in 1974 and for the entire primary school cycle in 1978. Following the implementation of structural adjustment programs (SAPs) in the 1980s, the government reneged on the free education reforms, and parents and communities were from then on required to contribute to their children’s schooling.
In the mid 1980’s, parents continued to pay tuition and buy equipment like books and desks because the government lacked adequate resources to do so themselves. Although the policy of free primary education has received a lot of praise, its implementation is faced with numerous challenges, which include the lack of physical facilities, school furniture, equipment and teachers, among others. This has led to overcrowding in classes and overburdening of teachers, and could have a negative effect on the quality of education.
A recent survey (Oxfam 2003) revealed that 37.3 per cent of children in Kibera, in Nairobi, are still out of school and the majority of those in school (70%) are attending non-formal primary schools. This problem has been compounded by the fact that almost no new schools have been built in slum areas for several years.
Kenyan Presidential candidate Mwai Kibaki promised to make primary education free in 2002, and when he won the election, he stuck to his guns and claimed no child should be charged for going to school. The world believed Kenya would now have free education and several donor agencies suddenly saw it as being in their best interests to support Kenya’s education sector.
Ten years down the line, many schools continue to charge fees – clearly demonstrating how many problems there still are with education in Africa in the modern day. Schools do not have the resources they were promised, and teachers are constantly overwhelmed by over-full classrooms. Indeed, this supposed educational revolution has been nothing more than an ordeal of frustration.
Since the promise proved to be false, parents have been expected to buy uniforms and pay numerous fees that have been charged to keep schools running. Many have even been forced to pull their children out of school, as the buildings lacked essential resources and failed to provide children with basic requirements.
The free primary education promise has failed, proving to be nothing more than a political pledge that was never translated into a policy framework. The focus should have been on constructing and improving facilities and conditions in existing schools and implementing healthy meals. This way, the children who were in education would have remained there.