By Catherine Asego and Benta Abuya, APHRC via Daily Nation
As the world commemorates the Day of the African Child today, it is worth reflecting on how we can ensure that children from poor families receive social protection, empowerment and equal opportunities in education.
Kenya has made commendable strides in providing equal education chances for all as guaranteed in the Constitution and supporting policies and frameworks.
The most recent development is the curriculum reform to align the education system to international standards.
Curriculum reform is one of many socio-economic initiatives to realise the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
There has been rapid growth of urban populations in sub-Saharan Africa.
Statistics show, for instance, that more than 60 per cent of Nairobi’s population lives in informal settlements.
This growth calls for better access to basic services such as health care and education.
This day is marked in honour of students from Soweto, South Africa, who were killed in 1976, as they protested against poor education offered by the apartheid regime.
The day raises awareness on the status of children, and the need for improvements in education.
This year, the theme is centered on accelerating protection, empowerment and equal opportunities.
As Nelson Mandela once said: “There is no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children.”
Kenya’s proposed curriculum focuses on nurturing learners’ potential and is being piloted in 470 schools in the 47 counties.
However, Alternative Provision of Basic Education and Training (APBET) institutions have not been included in the pilot stage.
Pupils in these schools face numerous challenges and it is unclear whether the new curriculum will address these problems or further widen the gap between them and those who benefit from government support.
Statistics from the African Population and Health Research Centre (APHRC) indicate that 47 per cent of learners living in urban informal settlements attend these alternative institutions.
They are mostly found in the slums.
They have inadequate and dilapidated infrastructure, creating a poor learning environment, especially for those with disabilities.
This goes against the Basic Education Act, which advocates the provision of appropriate infrastructure that meets the needs of every child.
Most schools lack well-ventilated and adequate toilets.
In those that do have them, the facilities are not easily accessible, especially for learners with physical disabilities.
Lack of clean and safe drinking water also poses a health hazard to learners.
Government support is limited. The schools hardly receive free primary education capitation grants because many are not registered with the Ministry of Education.
They are registered under the Ministries of Labour, Social Security and Services, Public service, Youth and Gender Affairs.
Registration with the Education ministry is a first step towards ensuring information about the learners is captured in the National Education Management Information System, so that they can benefit from government-supported programmes.
School owners cite lack of awareness and transparency as hindering registration.
Teachers are a critical education resource. However, those in alternative schools are poorly trained.
The APBET registration guidelines prescribe that schools should have at least 30 per cent trained teachers with the rest to get in-service training.
However, the implementation has been slow, perpetuating inequalities in access to quality basic education.
Despite the new curriculum being child-centred, the unique experiences of learners in the alternative schools might not be captured as they are not in the pilot.
This makes it difficult to ascertain their level of preparedness in rolling out the curriculum.
How then can the ministry ensure that these schools get the necessary support to implement the new curriculum?
To ensure equal opportunities for all children, the ministry should extend these programmes to those living in informal settlements.
The initiatives include the Free Primary Education capitation grants, laptops, provision of sanitary towels, supporting transition to secondary schools through the free day education, and curriculum reform.
Education is at the heart of the Day of the African Child.
We should never forget that the day honours children who died in the informal settlement of Soweto, fighting for the right to quality education.