In 2003 the Kenyan government introduced Free Primary Education. All over the country however, I saw children who were not attending school, but also not doing work for the family, they were just playing around the home. I asked people I knew why the children weren’t in school, and for each person I asked, the number one reason was the same: the cost is too high for the families to afford.
Despite the “Free Primary Education” movement, for most schools students still must pay to write an entrance test, they must buy a uniform, they must buy their own desk, and often still pay tuition/school fees. The combination of these costs can be staggering for one child, let alone for families with multiple children.
In Kenya there are many private schools that aim to provide affordable education, built and funded by local people or by outside charitable organizations. They are usually cheaper to attend than the government schools. Little Rock Academy was an example of this, as was another primary school I visited in Kibera. I met with the director of the school who told me how he created the school after seeing day after day so many children unable to attend school because of a lack of finances. Some of the families there were in such dire situations that one day a student with cancer was abandoned at the school, because the parents trusted in the goodwill of the school above their financial ability to treat their child.
For secondary school it is very common for students to go away to boarding school, incurring an even greater cost. Often these schools are located near their family homes. The reason they tend to go to boarding school is because they achieve higher academically there than at day schools. I couldn’t imagine going to a boarding school 30 minutes from my home and only going home 6 times a year!
These two situations of the cost and location of school allowed me to reflect on my own experiences of school, and the affordability my parents experienced. My long school bus rides don’t seem so bad either now when I think of the alternative being boarding school. But for many of the students, just having the opportunity to go to school is what counts for them.
In talking to people my age in the Kibera slum, they said it’s not the hardships they face that they necessarily want shared with the world; they’re not looking for pity or sympathy. It’s just that they want the opportunities that others get. And this can start with getting an education.