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Education in Kenya Needs Faster Reform

By Hon. Chris Wamalwa, MP

The delivery of education is complex and the regulation that surrounds it is even more so. But, with 260 million children out of school and 330 million in school but not learning due to poorly trained or absent teachers, we must ensure there is a workable regulatory framework to enable an effective mixed education landscape that includes public, private, faith, community, affordable, and partnership schools.

“Informal schools” have proliferated in Kenya in recent years, operating outside the regulatory framework. Across Kenya there are more than 10,000 private, community, and faith schools serving almost 2 million children. Many have applied for licensing, but the existing regulatory framework for private schools prevents them from reaching under-served and marginalized communities. This is something that I hope to change, and I know that there are many in the Kenyan parliament who support me.

From 2003 to 2008 enrollment in primary and secondary education in Kenya grew dramatically due to the introduction of free schooling and the millennium development goals. Yet according to UNICEF, 17 percent of Kenyan children at primary school age are still out of school.

Across Kenya, there have traditionally been only two types of schools: supposedly free public schools and expensive private schools. In reality, there are thousands of other schools that do not fall into either category and are widely known as “informal schools.” They have been established in communities up and down the country and are often a force for good, helping to make up for the overall shortage of schools. Typically, they operate in rural areas, or in areas of poverty where there is an under-provision of schools.

However, because of the nature of these schools and the communities they serve, they cannot meet the registration requirements for private schools. Application costs and construction standards are high at private schools, so they often charge students fees that are 10 to 100 times those charged at informal schools.

But the education students receive at informal schools can often be better, as many of these schools focus on outputs rather than inputs. This means that the schools measure success by improvement in learning—they prioritize what comes out of the classroom, unlike many schools that concentrate on the building the school is housed in or the facilities it can offer, rather than measuring whether an education is successfully being delivered to students.

The need for better education in Kenya motivated the government to consider a new regulatory framework. Since 2009, our government has been working to formalize informal schools, and in March 2016, we released the Alternative Basic Provision for Educational and Training Guidelines (APBET) to set standards for informal schools and allow them to be included in national education statistics. The guidelines were met with optimistic anticipation in the education sector and by many of my colleagues. I believe that the APBET guidelines are critical for achieving the formalization and registration of informal schools.

Since last March, there has been a problem with the implementation of APBET in the 44 counties across Kenya. Many local education boards are unaware of the guidelines, and some are confused about how they should be enacted. As such, to date no school in Kenya has been registered as an APBET school.

In Kenya, like in many African states, school registration is a process, not a singular event. Pursuing regulation and licenses takes a significant period of time and often engages various layers of local and national government bodies. Dealing with inconsistency in understandings of the process as well as the rules and regulations adds many frustrating barriers.

Without informal schools, however, even more children would be out of school in Kenya. The 2014 Nairobi Education Taskforce report noted that there were more than 1,500 low-cost private schools alone, serving at least 150,000 children, and across Kenya an estimated 2 million children receive their primary education at informal schools.

There are always political difficulties with the introduction of new regulations, but individual effective regulatory systems will be essential not only in Kenya, but across Africa if mixed-model education is to succeed. APBET regulations currently offer the best chance to receive an education in communities that are geographically, politically, and financially marginalized, complementing the government’s commitment to and pursuit of the goal of universal education.

With Kenya’s next general elections happening this August, perhaps now is the moment for my political colleagues to commit to implementing the APBET and to giving the 2 million children in informal schools, as well as their families, the security and support they deserve.



Hon. Chris Wamalwa MP is a Member of Parliament for Kiminini Constituency in Kenya, serving as the deputy minority chief whip in the National Assembly. An avid education reformer, Wamalwa sits on the Kenyan Education committee.

[Photo courtesy of ARC – The Alliance of Religions and Conservation]

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