'Working Toward Free Universal Primary Education in Kenya'
While Free the Children does not have the resources to implement true universal primary education in Kenya, their development model adopted on a large scale would prove effective at reaching this goal.
At the United Nations Millennium General Assembly in 2000, all nations of the world congregated to formulate the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). The Millennium Development Goals are a set of eight progressive goals addressing several issues that are meant to be reached by 2015. (UN Development Program) The aim of the MDGs is to help the world's poorest countries reach bare economic and social minimums. Unfortunately, the possibility that these goals will be realized by their target date is minute. As Stephen Lewis has argued, the dire lack of infrastructure and rampant AIDS epidemic in the third world has made the attainment of these goals a near impossibility. (Lewis, Race Against Time 4)
This paper will focus on the second MDG, the commitment to universal primary education (UPE). The goal to achieve universal primary education is the goal to ensure that children everywhere will be able to complete a full course of primary education. This neither entails, nor is entailed by the implementation of free primary education. One view which has historically been espoused by the World Bank is that free primary education is antithetical to universal education while others, such as the Kenyan Government believe that universal education will necessarily follow from free education. Still, a third view is that free education combined with certain crucial infrastructure developments will create the necessary conditions for UPE.
The World Bank firmly believes in Structural Adjustment Programs (SAPs) to promote third world development. The idea behind SAPs is that governments ought to decrease public sector spending and increase private sector spending. This results in a decrease of education spending by governments. In a World Bank study called Financing Education in Developing Countries the World Bank stressed the importance of privatization of education on the assumption that schools would be better funded and organized by the private sector rather than the government. Under this model, students do pay fees for education but with the hope that the quality would be higher than in the absence of such fees. An obvious drawback to this model is while some students will receive a higher quality of education, most students in developing countries cannot afford these fees and are left uneducated.
After some years of cooperating under the strictures of SAPs, the Kenyan government implemented a policy of free primary education for all. (Lewis 91) It was immediately clear that the implementation of free education drastically increased enrolment in schools. As predicted by the World Bank the quality of education was immediately compromised. Even though the education was free, enrolment was up by 1.3 million students. The case of Kenya demonstrates clearly that free education is not sufficient for UPE.
We cannot just have the World Bank making education accessible to some and not all as well as it is unrealistic and not conducive to alone abolish fees of primary education. It is exceptionally important for education to be universal. Stephen Lewis suggests that these views be scrapped and strongly believes that education should be universalized. (Lewis 97) On December 10, 1948 the General Assembly of the United Nations adopted and proclaimed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. In Article 26 of this document it states, "Everyone has the right to education. Education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages." Free the Children is striving to accomplish such by establishing free schools in developed countries. In the next section I will analyze Free the Children's development model and how it addresses developmental issues.
Free the Children's model to provide primary education for children in Kenya is based on sustainability and in order to reach sustainability they realize that one must address the route causes of the situation. Free the Children's overall goal is to provide every child in Kenya with the opportunity to attend primary school free of charge. They began this project by constructing numerous schools in Kenya with the donations and help of volunteers living in the developed world. Right away they began to notice that providing these communities with free schooling was not enough; enrolment rates were still quite low. Looking into the situation,
they came to realize that many children were unable to attend classes because they were busy nursing their ill parents and grandparents at home. This is when Free the Children decided that in order for children to be able to get an education they would establish means for free health care in these communities. Enrolment immediately shot up. Then Free the Children observed the discrepancy between the ratio of boys to girls. The female population was significantly less than the population of males in school. Inquiring into this next obstacle, Free the Children discovered that the girls were busy hauling water from local water sources for their families and therefore did not have the time to get an education. Free the Children tackled this issue by building rain catchment systems at their schools so that the girls were able attend school and still bring home water to their families at the end of the day. Now that enrolment rates were good and females were able to go to school, Free the Children noticed that most children's' educations were limited to that of primary school. Most children would not go on to secondary and post-secondary education as their parents could ill-afford the tuition. This is when Free the Children established means of alternative income for the families so that they could afford to continue their children's education. Their model is sustainability and therefore everything they help to establish is in someway sustainable.
When Free the Children first began building schools in Kenya, they noticed that enrolment was low and accredited this to the fact that children were too busy taking care of dying family members. Free the children strove and is striving to provide free basic health care in many Kenyan communities. They are building mobile health clinics which provide primary health services and health care workshops within communities. They are also establishing village gardens to supply natural herbal remedies for ailments. Free the Children is also launching health clubs in all their schools to educate students on basic measures that can be taken to evade the spread of disease. Once many of these healthcare systems were established, enrolment rate began to steadily increase.
The next issue that Free the Children encountered was the exceptionally large gap between the number of girls and the number of boys in school. They noticed a much higher population of boys than girls at school. After inquiring into this issue they came to the conclusion that the girls were too busy to attend school. Young girls were busy fetching water from the nearby water sources and therefore did not have the time to get an education, as the immediate need of water took precedence. Free the Children came up with a new idea. They began building rain catchment systems at their schools so that girls were able to attend school while still returning home with water for their families. After the construction of these rain catchment systems female enrolment in Free the Children's schools increased immensely.
Once Free the Children was content with enrolment rates in their primary schools, the organization become aware that most students, after graduating from grade eight would stop their education. The percentage of children going beyond primary school to secondary and post-secondary education was quite low. This was because these higher levels of education were not free and most parents were not in a financial position to pay their children's' tuitions. Free the Children, upon this realization, began to establish alternative income programs for the mothers of these villages, providing them with sustainable resources. Some women began bee farming to make
honey, others were given the materials to create jewellery, some were taught to craft utensils, and others learned to make scarves and blankets. A large supply of these alternative income products are sold at the Duca at the Free the Children Centre in Kenya. The money from the sale of these products goes directly to the mamas who produce them. Enrolment numbers in secondary and post-secondary education are beginning to rise now that families are making more money to pay their children's' tuitions.
Free the Children does not have the resources to implement true universal primary education in Kenya. The Free the Children model is sound and addresses the issues facing universal primary education; however this must be taken and put to use on a much larger scale.