Make Your Choice, Private or Public Education in Kenya
By Maurice N. Amutabi
There is heated debate on whether or not the Ministry of Education should use the quota system in the selection of candidates from private and public primary schools in Form One admission to national secondary schools. I support the quota system in admission to secondary schools, because many private schools are move endowed than public schools and they cannot be treated the same way. Public primary schools are patronized by the poor who cannot afford unreasonable fees charged at many private primary schools.
The practice all over the world is that parents make a choice at primary school level, in terms of whether their children should pursue private or public education. It is only in Kenya where rich parents want to have both ways. They use their wealth to take their children to private schools as short cut to taking the lion’s share of places available at top national schools. This is cheating the system so as to place their children ahead of the line, by paying more at the primary school level and then sitting easy once their kids join top national schools. This is dishonesty and needs to stop.
The 11 member Task Force selected by the Ministry of Education to review the selection of rules introduced for form one selection should know that poor parents will not go to court to demand for more slots for their children because they cannot afford court costs. Many of them cannot afford the costs of lawyers’ fees and cannot write in newspaper columns or call press conferences to express their views. It would therefore be wrong to imagine that since they have not sued the Ministry or expressed their views in the media, then they are happy with the threat to take away slots reserved for candidates from public schools.
Private schools constitute only 20% of primary schools in Kenya and should not be given more spaces simply because they produce more candidates scoring above 400 in KCPE. If we use common sense and logic, they should be allocated only 20% of slots in national secondary schools, which is consistent with their ratio in education and not 38% that they were given in this year’s form one selection in national schools.
The problem is that the Government seems to be responding to pressure from owners of private schools and their rich benefactors instead of facing the reality. Parents from rich private academies have sued the Ministry and some of their members have been included in the taskforce as a result. This is clearly arm-twisting by the rich. It is the highest level of impunity in the sector which the new constitution discourages. There are no parents on the taskforce from public schools. There was need to include members with dissenting views in the taskforce. Poor parents have clearly been shortchanged in the membership of the taskforce and the outcome is likely to be skewed against poor parents and public schools.
There have been suggestions by the rich that students from private schools are unfairly punished for working hard. Well, they have worked hard to join any secondary school and not necessarily national schools. Private school candidates in primary schools should be absorbed in private secondary schools, and owners should ask the government to help in funding the building of more private secondary schools.
Parents should make a choice, whether their children should attend public or private schools. If they choose to take their children to private primary schools, it is indication that they have lost confidence in public school education and should therefore take their children to available private secondary schools. It is totally preposterous and hypocritical for them to demand the lion’s share of places in public national schools.
Public primary schools have collapsed because policy makers, implementers and bureaucrats in the Ministry of Education do not care because their children attend private primary schools. It is unfair to compare the two systems given the overcrowding and lack of facilities that public schools have, compared to private academies. The quota system should stay and I would like to applaud the three professors – Sam Ongeri, James Kiyiapi and George Godia for being bold enough to introduce quota system in form one selection to national secondary schools despite great pressure from the rich.
Prof. Amutabi teaches Social Sciences at the Catholic University of Eastern Africa. Amutabi@yahoo.com