Kenya is the first Education-For-All (EFA) country in Africa to make primary education free. This happened when the National Rainbow Coalition came to power at the end of 2002.
It was a long awaited policy, not only for children and parents but also for teachers and all those around the world who are concerned about education for all. The move was widely lauded, but it was not without its problems. Many classrooms were filled to overflowing, with teachers obliged to conduct lessons outdoors. Teacher to pupil ratios of one to 80 - sometimes 90 - were recorded, something that placed a severe burden on the country's instructors. Nonetheless, about 1.7 million children who had previously been excluded from the education system were able to be enrolled in school. EI's visit to Kenya: EI's Chief Regional Co-ordinator, Assibi Napoe, visited Kenya recently to investigate the various challenges that are confronting teachers and education in the country today. The first of teacher union, the Kenyan National Teachers' Union (KNUT)'s priorities is to find a solution for the acute teacher shortage. For the current school year 2005-2006, KNUT estimates that an additional 60,000 teachers are needed. Free primary education WOULD fail, if students are turned back by schools simply because there are not enough teaching personnel to cope with the student intake. The problem is already compounded by over-packed classrooms where students do not always get to learn properly. The second problem confronting the KNUT is the issue of teacher retention. The introduction of free primary education since 2002 greatly increased the workload of teachers in the country. In order to convince teachers to stay in their profession (and hence make the free primary education scheme work), the government promised the KNUT that the revision of teachers' salary would be implemented once the country's economy improved. "Now that the country's economic growth had risen by 4.58 per cent," said KNUT Secretary General Francis Ng'ang'a. "the Government should not to renege on its pledge." He added that teachers should be paid before the next General Election. The third challenge that the KNUT now faces is its relations with the government. As was reported in the news item dated 29 September, a new constitution is proposed by the government, in which an article would make the Teachers Service Commission (TSC) lose its autonomy. At present, the TSC is an independent body which regulates the employment and recruitment of teaching personnel in the country. Among other roles, it also mediates between the KNUT and the government on the issue of teacher shortage and salary packages. If the proposed constitution is passed, it would subject the TSC to the control of regional authorities. A referendum will be held on 21 Nov and the KNUT has already ordered its members to vote "no". The government is also trying to put in place performance contracts. A TSC commissioner, Lawrence Sitienei, makes it clear that such a move is unfair to teachers judging the present working conditions, "it was not possible to gauge the performance of poorly paid teachers working in ill-equipped schools." The KNUT also faces many difficulties in being involved in social dialogues, especially with regard to negotiations with intergovernmental agencies such as the ILO and UNESCO. What do we mean by Education For All? EI insists that education for all is not about putting children in a classroom. It is about providing children with a qualified teaching professional in acceptable teaching and learning environment. While it is extremely encouraging that the Kenya government took the first bold step in implementing free primary education, the policy should not just be about being "free", it should also be about providing "education".