The impact of the government directive that all of last year’s Standard Eight candidates proceed to secondary school is being felt across the country, though at varying degrees.
Schools have had optimal enrolment, experienced under-enrolment or gone over and above their recommended capacities.
The last two scenarios should be a cause for worry. Indeed, the media are awash with reports of overstretched facilities in schools, including some dining halls being converted into dormitories and libraries serving as classrooms, among other bizarre incidents.
This brings into question both the well-being of the learners and the quality of education offered.
In spite of the government policy to have 100 percent transition rate to secondary school, the Ministry of Education says about 150,000 of the 2018 Kenya Certificate of Primary Education (KCPE) examination candidates are yet to join Form One, casting doubt on the efficacy of the policy.
That has prompted an executive order to chiefs and their assistants to effect the directive.
Granted, parents bear the responsibility of ensuring that all legible children attend school. Accordingly, parents whose children don’t join high school risk being penalised.
But while the policy is welcome, several other children who sat the exam earlier did not go to secondary school — despite explicit legal provisions that make basic education free and compulsory.
And hundreds of thousands of children of schoolgoing age are not enrolled in primary school. So, what plans does the government have for these categories of children?
A 2012 United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco) report shows a million children were out of school — primary and secondary.
Reasons included poverty, engagement in domestic chores, lack of uniforms and distance to school.
Gender, place of birth and family income have also been cited as strong predictors of enrolment at the various levels.
Street children make a huge chunk of those who don’t attend school. According to the Consortium of Street Children, an international charity, they number 250,000 to 300,000. The bulk of them are found in Nairobi and its environs.
The fact that there is no official figure on such homeless children could be an indication of lack of commitment by the relevant authorities in dealing with this grave problem.
Among others, it negates one of the key aims of devolution — fostering socio-economic development and provision of proximate and easily accessible services.
The Constitution, Basic Education Act 2013 and Children Act 2001 all provide for free and compulsory basic education (pre-primary, primary and secondary) as a human right.
A parent who violates the right of a child to basic education commits an offence and is liable to punishment.
Clearly, the legal frameworks guiding free and compulsory basic education are in place; what is conspicuously lacking is implementation.
Yet that is the void the executive order, quite a noble idea, was expected to fill.
Dr Nyatuka is the chairman, Department of Educational Foundations, Kisii University. [email protected]