|© African Women and Child Feature Service/2003/Mwangi|
|The jump in enrolment in Kenya has come with challenges. Classrooms built for 35 pupils were now crowded with more than 70.|
The Standard One classroom at Ayany Primary School in Kibera, Kenya is a hive of activity. Excited pupils sit on the brightly carpeted floor. Some are writing on chalkboards, others are busy with their books. Silvia Akinyi, age 10, is demonstrating her newly acquired skills.
Not long ago, Silvia did not attend school. Where there is a price attached to education, the most vulnerable – the destitute, children orphaned by AIDS, girls – are left out of the classroom. School fees, together with hidden costs, such as charges for textbooks, uniforms and examinations, and opportunity costs associated with household responsibilities, such as caring for sick parents, keep poor families throughout the developing world from sending their children to school.
When Kenya abolished school fees, families who previously couldn’t afford the $133 tuition or the $27 for a school uniform began sending their children to school. Since January 2003, more than 1.3 million children entered school for the first time under Kenya’s free primary education policy. This has pushed national enrolment from 5.9 million to 7.2 million. Similar experiences have been reported in Malawi, Uganda and the United Republic of Tanzania.
With the jump in enrolment came challenges – not enough desks, stationery or other educational equipment. In response to overcrowding, the Child-Friendly Primary School Initiative, a joint project of UNICEF and the Kenyan Ministry of Education begun in 2002, sought to improve school quality. The World Bank, United Kingdom Department for International Development and UNICEF provided textbooks. Other educational materials and recreational equipment were supplied, allowing teachers who had been trained in 2002 to convert basic classrooms into stimulating environments.
In 2002, UNICEF supported the training of some 1,000 teachers and trained about 5,000 more in the first half of 2003. Child-friendly classrooms are already in 70 communities in 9 districts.
Kenya’s introduction of free primary schools is rekindling hope and turning lives around.