The Best of the informed Blogs on Kenya 2011


More VAT=Fewer Books

The quality of education in Kenya might soon be watered down as many children in public schools will go to class without the necessary books, following The Government’s decision to introduce Value Added Tax (VAT) on textbooks. It also proposes to impose 16 per cent VAT on exercise books as well.
The Value Added Tax Bill 2011 proposes to remove printed books from the VAT zero-rated goods category. This will likely raise the prices of textbooks by 50 per cent if proposals contained in the Draft Bill are approved since the VAT will have a cumulative effect along the book production and distribution chain.
As a way of protecting the frail education sector, the financial policies of many countries worldwide exclude printed books from taxation. In Kenya, paper used to print educational books is also imported duty-free.
The move comes at a bad time when Kenyans are battling with high inflation rates in order to meet even the basic needs. Experts have warned that the move is likely to lower the quality of education as textbooks will become too expensive, only to be afforded by a few parents.
As reported by Fredrick Obura of
The Standard, According to the Kenya Publishers Association (KPA), the VAT Bill  would not only

Kenya Publishers Association Chairman, Mr. Lawrence Njagi.

introduce a 16 per cent VAT on books, it would also open another window subjecting imported printing materials to 25 per cent tax, which would render the industry non-competitive among peers in the East Africa region. “The impending law would increase the cost of publishing books in Kenya. Our industry imports 90 per cent of its raw materials, and is already battered by a depreciating shilling against major currencies,” said Kenya Publishers Association Chairman, Lawrence Njagi.

Mr Simon Sossion : Target Publications

According to the managing director of Target Publications and vice-chairman of Kenya Publishers Association, Mr Simon Sossion, who expressed his views the Daily Nation, if passed into law without reinstating books under the zero-rating protection, the consequences of the 2001 VAT Bill will be trigger the erosion of the current Sh1,020 provided annually by the government to each primary school pupil for instructional materials by 90 per cent hence reducing it to a mere Sh102  which is hardly enough to buy a single textbook.
The frustrating lack of textbooks could trigger mass drop-out rates gravely injuring the country’s current 72 per cent transition rate from primary to secondary school and Kenya will suffer mass capital and book printing job flights to the region and abroad, especially India, the Far East and China.
Book piracy will become even more lucrative and a lot of businesses will go under with a devastating double impact: genuine investors will lose, and ultimately the government will lose revenue. This will seriously stifle the publishing industry.
The state has recently been blamed over woes facing the education sector. Just the other day students in private schools were sent back home when they reported to their respective schools after the August holidays, following a countrywide teachers strike. The teachers had given the government a deadline to employ more teachers, as public schools were faced with an acute shortage of teachers following an influx of students that came with the introduction of free primary education in 2003.
According to Kenya’s National Union of Teachers (KNUT), Kenya’s public schools are currently hit by a shortage of 80,000 teachers, which has resulted in a heavy workload for the available teachers. In one instance, a teacher had to cater for the needs of almost 120 pupils in a class, which is way above the official requirement of one teacher to 20 pupils.
The quality of education depends largely on the teacher-student ratio, if the ratio is wanting then quality is compromised and that is evident when national examinations results are released in December and February for both primary and secondary schools. Students in private schools are performing much better than their counterparts who are in public schools.
As reported by The Standard on Thursday September 6, teachers were threatening to paralyse learning again over delayed payment of their September salaries.
While the government’s efforts to boost the levels of education in the country have been acknowledged, it’s clear that it still needs to get its priorities right as Kenya is said to be one of the 26 countries in sub-Saharan Africa that are unlikely to achieve the education for all (EFA) target by 2015, according to Dr
Beatrice Khamatui Njenga, Head Of Education Division at the Commission Of The African Union.

Sanitary Towels=Education

On June 3rd, 2011, the Forum posted an article entitled, ‘HEALTH, SELF-ESTEEM, EDUCATION AND OPPORTUNITY – SANITARY TOWELS ARE A SERIOUS ISSUE’, applauding the government’s effort to make sure girls in Kenya stay in school by providing them with free sanitary towels.
Studies have shown that many girls in Kenya miss up to a week of school every month during menstruation due to lack of sanitary towels. Ask any teacher and they will tell you, a girl without access to sanitary towels feels embarrassed, unhygienic and uncomfortable, she also loses self esteem and with that the confidence to interact with her classmates, or with teachers in the classroom.
Sanitary towels, therefore, are a serious education issue in Kenya.
A girl absent from school for four days in 28 days (a month) loses 13 learning days equivalent to two weeks of learning in every school term. In an academic year (nine months) a girl loses 39 learning days equivalent to six weeks of learning time. A girl in primary school between grades 6 and 8 (three years) loses 18 learning weeks out of 108 weeks. Within the four years of high school a girl can lose 156 learning days equivalent to almost 24 weeks out of 144 weeks of learning in High school!
So when the Prime Minister ordered two ministries to start providing sanitary towels to Kenyan students from July this year and asked the Ministry of Education to liaise with the Ministry of Public Health to provide the towels in all public schools from the next financial year, it was good news for everyone who was concerned with this issue, not least approximately 50 per cent of students in our schools.
When the Finance Minister, for the first time ever, allocated $3M from the current national budget to cater for the free sanitary pads, the programme was scheduled to commence this term and seemed set to go.
The Forum had however, in the same article, questioned the sustainability of this initiative bearing in mind the government‘s failure to implement the programme for the first time as promised when it came to power in 2003. It didn’t come as a surprise therefore, when the Ministry of Education announced earlier in the week that the programme, which was to start last month, will now be rolled out in January instead, due to a shortage of funds.
According to the education Permanent Secretary James Ole Kiyapi, the initial allocation of Ksh 300 million would only cater for 500, 000 girls yet the ministry targeted a million learners. As reported by the
Daily Nation on Monday October 3, 2011 the government needs Sh 1.6bn annually for the supply of sanitary towels to poor girls.
As the government appeals to donors to step in and support the project we can’t help recalling how our dear honorable members of parliament raided money set aside for relief operations and other national emergencies to settle their tax arrears two months ago.  If only the poor girls, who have to miss school when it’s that time of the month again, could also tell Mother Nature to go for a vacation until January, then maybe they could just wait patiently for the government to keep their word.
In the meantime, not only is this bad news for poorer girls in school in Kenya, it also means, as one
website campaigning for sanitary towels in our schools put it, ‘Kenya is unlikely to achieve Education for All (EFA) goals and gender parity by 2015 or theMillennium Development Goals (MDGs).
The ministry of education proposal to upgrade selected schools countrywide to national status is indeed a milestone. Previously Kenya had only 18 national schools, something that put a strain on Form One admissions as parents scrambled to have their children admitted in the limited places available.
Missing a chance to get admission in a national school has dashed hopes of many students who believe getting excellent grades to secure admission in government universities is guaranteed once in a national school.
The programme seams to be in tune with the devolution of power affirmed in the new constitution, as the upgrade will see a national school at least based in each province or rather county.  Despite the schools upgrade programme eliciting sharp reactions from various quarters, with the church seeking more consultations before the upgrade of its sponsored schools and others crying foul in the selection. So far, however, the pros seem to outweigh the cons.
If the minister’s words are anything to go by, the first phase will see 6000 new spaces created in these schools for Form One intake next year, bringing the total number of students who will enroll in these schools next year to 10,500 from the initial 4,500.
The upgrade will raise the number of national schools to 114. “When all the three phases are complete and operationalised in the next seven years”, Education Permanent Secretary James Ole Kiyapi assures us, “national schools will have about 80,000 students.”
Among the proposed schools for the upgrade are; Chogoria Girls’, Meru School, Machakos Boys, Makueni Boys, Kathiani Girls, Murang’a High, Bishop Gatimu Girls, Moi Girls Isinya, Maranda High School, Kisii High, Friends School Kamusinga, Mama Ngina Girls, Wajir Girls among others. The schools will receive sh 25 million each to build new classrooms, dormitories, equip laboratories and erect modern fences among other things.
So that’s all well and good but there is a word of warning. Today
The Star reported that the Parliamentary Committee on Education has raised fears that the Free Primary Education (FPE) programme may collapse within two years if the government does not employ more teachers and increase funding to schools.
‘Committee chairman David Keoch”, reported
The Star, ‘said the government is sabotaging FPE by their failure to implement issues agreed by stakeholders in the education sector’.
We can only hope that the national schools project will be well rolled out and administered, to ensure that the tax payers’ money doesn’t end up being embezzled akin to that of the Free Primary Education programme.
The Teachers Service commission (TSC) announcement that it will soon only employ primary school head teachers who have a Bachelor’s Degree in Education has seen a good number of primary school teachers enroll in Universities in a bid to upgrade their skills and qualify for promotion.
The TSC chief executive Gabriel Lengoboin advised teachers seeking promotions to head primary schools to improve their academic status first for future consideration
However, many teachers have come out strongly to opposed the new directive and allege that the move will likely shut out those without degrees from promotion. The Kenya National Union of Teachers Isiolo branch executive secretary Dadhe Boru,
Said it is difficult to implement the policy in pastoralist’s areas where poverty is high adding that teachers in such areas have no money to further their education.
There are well over 20,000 Heads serving in public primary schools in the country and most of them are P1 holders.
This move comes as the public education sector continues to sink in the murk of poor performances, more pupils plus staff shortages, as well as lack of proper facilities just to mention a few.
Well if you ask me, a degree might attract more income and a status for the teachers in this case, but it might not necessarily be the solution to curb all these challenges facing the public education sector.
Much worse, as reported by the Standard on Wednesday, 20th July, is the recent report by the Uwezo Initiative, an NGO which indicated that seven out of every 10 lower primary school children lack competency to move to the next class.
Children in Kenya are graduating from primary schools without necessary reading and counting skills. Half of the children in class four cannot do class two work and one out of 10 children in Class Eight today cannot do Class Two level division. According to the organization’s Regional Manager Sara Ruto, teacher and pupil absenteeism contributed significantly to the deteriorating performance.
As the top manager of a school, the head teacher has the duty to make critical decisions governing the school management and it’s only logical to require that such a candidate be
well grounded in management matters in order to run the schools appropriately, but I don’t think a degree only is enough to guarantee performance or a tool to curb these challenges and should not be used to deny deserving experienced teachers Promotion
The move announced early last week however, of training teachers in education management is more viable; finally the ministry is waking up! About 26,000 teacher’s country wide will benefit from a 10 million shillings training programme in education management. The Kenya Education Staff Institute Director Wanjiru Kariuki, said heads will be encouraged to enroll for the Diploma programme which will impact on financial management, procurement and strategic planning among others.
The course will hopefully be rolled out from the August holidays and is expected to take 11 months. Speaking during the Kenya Primary School Heads Association in Mombasa, Education PS James ole Kiyiapi said the ministry is consulting with other players to ensure the training starts soon.
As the PS was quoted, “This is part of reforms in the Ministry of Education aimed at improving the running of schools.” The big question is, WHAT TOOK YOU SO LONG?
In response to the many tragedies that have hit secondary schools in the last decade, the Ministry of Education introduced a safety standards manual for schools outlining measures they should take in the event of an outbreak of fire. It required, among other things, for the space between beds to be at least 1.2 meters, corridors to be not less than two meters wide, and prohibited the sharing of beds to minimise overcrowding in dormitories.
The school safety standards’ manual came as a breakthrough in attempting to curb the incendiary crisis. The daunting task however, still lies in its implementation. Take for example this series of events since the year began;
February suspected arsonists set ablaze a dormitory at Sameta Boys High school in Gucha.
21 March: a dormitory was torched at Magena Secondary School in Kenyenya. Nothing was salvaged from the dormitory housing 37 students in the incident that happened at 8.30pm. Luckily, nobody was injured since the students were attending night preps. It was the tenth dormitory to be burnt down at the school.
10 May: a fire burns down four dormitory cubicles at the Ndumberi Girls high school. The Star reported that it was the third fire to affect the school this year.
21 June: an inferno gutted a two-storey dormitory at Kereri Girls High School in Kisii town. The dormitory, which housed about 250 students, was severely damaged and more than 60 students lost their belongings.
22 June: 114 boys were left without a place to sleep when a fire broke out at Nakuru Boys High School destroying property worth Sh10 million including a dormitory, a dispensary and staff quarters.
The causes of these fires have mostly been blamed on faulty electric circuits though suspicions of arson have also been cited. In most of the cases reported the fires started either when students were in their evening preps, or in the morning during assemblies. The targeted areas were mostly dormitories and as a result students ended up loosing all their belongings as well being left without a place to sleep.
And so it goes on… It seems apparent that most schools have not complied with the Ministry of Education’s guidelines judging from the increased cases of school infernos this year.
Kisii County leaders in particular have expressed concern over a spate of school fires in the area. Cabinet minister Chris Obure and ODM activist Gideon Moreka have also called for a probe into the mysterious fires. And the umbrella association of fire fighters has urged the government to introduce fire education in both the primary and secondary school curriculum, citing that lack of knowledge in handling fire disasters as a major problem.
It is indeed alarming that no eyebrows have been raised yet, perhaps because this is Kenya and it’s become a tradition to act only when faced with a massive disaster. It might be good news when a dormitory burns down and students escape unhurt but not newsworthy enough to provoke a reaction from the stakeholders. Shall we have to wait until a school fire kills a number of students for action to be taken?
It is sad that boarding schools, which have long been perceived as safe havens where parents leave their children to be molded into well educated and experienced citizens, away from any external distractions in society, are so often putting those young Kenyans’ lives in jeopardy.
The Prime Minister Raila Odinga has ordered two ministries to start providing sanitary towels to Kenyan students from July. The PM said that the Ministry of Education should liaise with that of Public Health to provide the towels in all public schools from the next financial year, the Daily Nation reported on Wednesday 25th May. The move comes as an effort to control the number of girls who have to miss up to a week of school every month during menstruation due to lack of sanitary pads. Girls are forced to miss school out of embarrassments and ridicule from male counterparts.  According to a recent study reported by the New York Times, girls can be losing one-fourth of their education to menstruation. In Kenya where close to 50 per cent of Kenyans live on less than one dollar a day (Sh80), even the most basic commodities have become luxuries. A packet containing eight sanitary pads costs as much 100 shillings (about 1.50 USD). The price is too high for majority of women who might not make that much in a day, going by the above statistics. From January 2001, the rate of VAT for eligible sanitary protection products was lowered from the full rate of 17.5% to the “reduced rate” of 5%, in line with EU restrictions. Nevertheless, most women can still not afford them because the retail price did not fall following the tax cut.
NGOs and charity organisations have also stepped up to address the issue by providing sanitary pads, panties and soap to more challenged areas as it also became apparent that most of these girls could not afford panties too. Initiatives of mending reusable pads have also been undertaken and the girls have been provided with the raw materials as well as the ‘know how’ of patching up such.
Other research carried out into the effectiveness of this remedy reported that the impact was considerable. The girls’ once low self-esteem were raised, they were able to concentrate better in school, their confidence grew, and they were able to participate in more daily activities even during their cycles. The cases of girls missing schools also reduced drastically.
Even as the PM further instructed the Ministry of Finance to include the costs of the pads in the next Budget questions remained; what about the other girls back in the villages living outside the classroom walls? And what about the women, the girls’ mothers for example, who have not been able to provide the same ‘basic commodity’ to their daughters, how are they to be catered for?
The Forum asks, how practical and sustainable is this initiative bearing in mind that the government promised to do the same eight years ago when it came to power in 2003? With just a few months to 2012, the next election year, we must hope that there is no political interests in the move, bearing in mind that that the population of women in Kenya stands at 52%.