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Pupils from Bridge International Academy Kenya,during a lesson.

In Kenya there is an urgent need for more quality schools. Not enough children are in school, and there is a shortage of good schools. What I want to see is a healthy mix in our schools: government schools, charity run schools, Faith schools, private schools, low-fee schools, and others, all working together to give parents as much choice as possible.

There’s always someone saying there’s evidence that school choice doesn’t work, like the left-leaning New America group suggested, wrongly, in recent New York Times. In case anyone wonders why it’s important that the President and his Education Secretary relentlessly talk about school choice, this quote by scholar and educator Robert Pondiscio says it all:

“We can argue until the sun goes out over evidence. The stronger case will always be for the moral authority of choice and fundamental fairness and decency: I chose my kid’s school; I don’t have the right to deny you the same freedom I enjoy. It’s unjust, immoral and deeply un-American.”

Wall Street Journal Reporter Bill McGurn authored a fabulous piece recently arguing that USA Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’ best move would be to shame the failing school districts and communities that are preventing all of America’s students from having opportunity.

It is high time that the government of Kenya, including our illustrious Minister of Education, came up with a Marshall Plan for transformation of our public education sector to meet the demands of the 21st century. We need to see and feel investment of money into classrooms and other school resources like desks, text books, laboratories, integrated ICT, sports and the arts. The shortage of teachers and their poor distribution is an open secret that the Teacher Service Commission has yet to fix. We need large scale change and reform across education in Kenya.

It’s no good holding onto the past, because if we carry on doing what we’ve always done we won’t get out of the current system that is letting many children down. Nobody should be demonizing the few innovators like Bridge International Academies, who are bravely helping to fix the shortage of teachers and good schools. We should be celebrating those who are helping to Kenya forward with real progress.

Parents want results when it comes to education, not empty rhetoric. It’s time for the people in charge of Kenya’s under-performing public education sector to show what value for money we are getting when over 50% of our primary school children still cannot pass KCPE every year, and independent studies by Haki Elimu and the World Bank show that literacy and numeracy skills of many class eight children is below the required proficiency for class three and class four standards.

In Busia County, the County Board of Education recently proposed to shut down Bridge Schools without a clear plan of how the pupils would be reassigned and guaranteed quality education at any of the overcrowded and under-resourced low-performing public schools nearby.

In Kenya, powerful people like union leaders and top ministry officials escape the failing public schools by choosing and paying for the best high cost private schools for their own children while arguing against the rights of poor parents to choose and pay for the low-cost private and APBET schools like Bridge International Academies. What all parents want is choice they can afford and guaranteed good performance from the schools their children attend. As long as public schools in Kenya continue to perform below acceptable standards in the age of FPE, poor Kenyan parents concerned about the future of their children will seek alternative options. It’s immoral for anyone in government to try limit their choices for the best interest of their children.

The demand for low cost private and APBET schools is a symptom of failure in the public education sector and a vote of no-confidence by the parents in the current FPE environment. The ministry must put its house in order to reclaim the lost glory and stature of our public education sector. All stakeholders including the unions and TSC must take their heads out of the sand and give us a robust solution that reclaims our public primary schools as beacons of excellence in quality teaching and learning. Nice gimmicks like “stricter KCPE” and one laptop per child, will only cater to the egos and financial interests of well-connected powerful people without real improvement to the quality of teaching and learning that our children deserve. Our children deserve better.

Hon Ken Okoth Member of Parliament for Kibra Constituency and education committee member.

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