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Free & Compulsory Basic Education Right For Every Child

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Children in Kenya Public School Classroom Children in Kenya Public School Classroom

Kenya Constitution article 53. (1) reads, “Every child has the right––(b) to free and compulsory basic education.” This constitution law gives every Kenyan child the right to free basic education that the constitution also makes compulsory. Jubilee Manifesto does not define what, “basic education,” means and thereby does not state how it will achieve this right. CORD Manifesto reads, “CORD will comply with the Constitution, which entitles every child to basic, free and compulsory education.” Similarly CORD does not define the “basic education,” or say how they will comply with constitution.

What is “free and compulsory basic education,” envisioned by the constitution?

Many Kenyans asked reply that this means every child has equal access to education no matter their background or the capability or lack of it by his or her parents.  However, many Kenyans cannot give a clear answer as to whether “basic education,” means primary education alone or includes secondary education. In many world countries, “basic education,” for a child is normally referred to the 12 years or education from age 6 years – 17 years when a human being is referenced as a child. If this standard is used then child basic education would be until the 18th birthday when childhood ends and adulthood begins. If this is the case, then from the 200,000 students cut after the KCPE results those aged 13 years to 17 years will be denied a constitutional right. 

What does “Free,” in constitution mean if I’m still asked for fees?

Many Kenyan parents are complaining today after being charged fees by public primary schools, “This fee should not be charged because the constitution clearly states free education,” is an opinion shared by many. The fee is charged with reasons such as: School maintenance fee, activity fee, security fees, among others. Kenyans in enacting the constitution 2010 borrowed heavily from the developed world with free education for basic level. The free compulsory basic education will see the citizens of a country through their governments provide: School building infrastructure, school chairs and desks, school teaching material, school teachers, school basic curriculum that clearly defines the set number of hours to be taught for every child and some even transport from school back to home. Many countries that achieve the free education create a budget and a plan that achieves this goal. For example if a government states that 25% of the budget will go back to give free education then it is this money that shall give each child the needed education. If Kenya citizens pay Kshs 900 billion in taxes and there are 10 million children aged between 6 years and 17 years and supposed to be in school grade 1 – 12, then the budget of Kshs 225 billion should be legislated in a system that enables meeting of basic education right requirement.  

Should students get free textbooks, exercise books and laptops?

The basic curriculum sets the requirements and the budget should meet the curriculum requirement for free provided in public schools there is no discrimination. Many citizens say that indeed the government does provide free text books and writing materials; however, because of proper accounting systems some teachers and head teachers exploit this by re-selling the books.  

Should uniforms be included in free education budget? 

School uniforms are the most expensive school items that a parent can be subjected to. Many Kenyans argue that if the Government was serious about free primary education, then they should have eliminated school uniforms which are unaffordable to many. Many say Uniform distributors make do booming business especially at the beginning of every new school year. A school sweater costs around Kshs.1,000, a shirt costs approximately Kshs. 300, school shorts and trousers cost Kshs. 800 and a girl’s dress costs between Kshs. 800 to Kshs. 1,000.  A child needs at least two pairs of uniform which is over Kshs. 5,000. This price is out of the range of many poor parents.  In many developed countries the uniform is not considered to be part of basic education. This elimination enables children to use their day to day clothes when attending public funded schools.

How do private schools fit in free and basic education right?  

The private school system fits into the free and basic education right for the child has to still get this education. In most cases the difference is the quality and quantity rather than the basic minimum. If one was to use car models free public basic education could be compared to a small mini that still gets one from point A to B and private education a SUV that still gets one from point A to B even though the prices are different. 

All said and done, free and compulsory basic education is far from being achieved for every child as envisioned by Kenyans when they constituted the constitution. The first step is clearly defining basic education. Creative thinkers say that the purpose of free basic education is to expose every child to some education so as to find the inventive brain resource that will advance the world forward. An inventor could be born from a poor family and only the free compulsory basic education can tap them. Policymakers say that a better educated country is able to advance and create a more secure community thus the justification of the need for free compulsory basic education. The late President of South Africa Nelson Mandela is quoted saying, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”  

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