Public schools need more resources other than FPE vouchers: Francis Tome

The Government spending on public primary education has over the years increased significantly. Unfortunately this increased funding has not been followed by similar gains by students in public primary schools in terms of performance in national examinations. Students from private academies have eclipsed their counterparts in public schools sparking fears that they will yet again fill a larger proportion of the few available slots in the best secondary schools in the country.

Many have decried the performance based selection system that seems to only favor the private academies whose Social Economic Status (SES) is arguably higher than of most public schools.

However some analysts have rushed to the defense of the private academies arguing that underperformance in public schools cannot be attributed to SES. They opine that with the advent of Free Primary Education (FPE); SES plays an insignificant role in the performance of many poor students performance in public schools.

This view remains highly contentious and it is very unlikely that it can be satisfactorily resolved. It becomes trickier considering the fact that many of its proponents view resources available in schools so much in terms of finances, which is, only but a component of the entire resource base.

If that be the case then one can confidently argue that the bare minimum Government funding of FPE has not in any way, led to increased resource base in public primary schools.

It is because of this reason that policy analysts insist that the critical question in Kenya 's education system is to have far reaching education reforms which must focus on resource allocation.
Take for instance, the availability of qualified teachers to meet the rising enrolment in public primary schools across the country. Unlike many private academies that boast of teacher- student ratio of 1: 30 or even less; public primary schools have to grapple with a startling ratio of up to 1: 100!

What this means is that whereas the small size class in private academies make substantially faster gains in learning, their counterparts in public schools do not even have that bare minimum individualized attention from the few available teachers. From the foregoing it is highly unlikely to expect public schools to compete favorably with private academies.This will not happen. Not even when we absurdly think that doing away with school vacations will make a difference!.

It is in the same vein that the public is demanding of the Government that "smaller classes, and not FPE vouchers alone, can increase student achievement in public primary schools. Professor Fredrick Moesteller of Harvard University affirms that "there is no longer any argument about whether or not reducing class size in primary grades increases student achievement. It does."

In our context, smaller classes mean hiring or employing more teachers depending with the outcome of the pending court case. It also means building more classrooms. However, with the current budget deficit, it is doubtful whether these problems can be addressed the soonest. What this means is that the glaring inequalities between private and public primary schools shall persist.

Ceteris Paribus, a quota system would be needless, however, given our context, as for now, just as we use it in addressing regional disparities, so must we use it when considering admissions for the few available slots in the top performing secondary schools in the country.

Of course, I am not saying that teacher –student ratio is the only panacea, it is only but a piece of the jig- saw. I also agree in entirety with those who opine that the ministry of basic education must ensure effective and quality assurance exercises in schools are regularly undertaken to prevent laxity taking toll of some of our teachers, managers and administrators. That we need committed manpower in our schools cannot be denied.

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