According to Lant Pritchett, a senior fellow at the Center for Global Development and professor of the practice of international development at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, If you want to find a child who lacks education today, the place to find them is in school; although globally emphasis has been placed on the importance of education, many children are being schooled but they are not really learning.
Research by a Kenyan based research firm, Uwezo Kenya, found 11 percent of upper level primary children lack grade 2 numeracy skills and that 70 percent of grade 3 pupils are struggling with the acquisition of basic literacy and numeracy skills. Part of the problem is that the millennium development goal on education was just “time served” and placed no emphasis on quality; So it is good that the new sustainable development goal (number 4.1) shifts the focus. It says: “By 2030, ensure that all girls and boys complete free, equitable and quality primary and secondary education leading to relevant and effective learning outcomes.”
This recent month, public school teachers in Kenya downed their tools and have been on strike demanding better pay to which the government’s response was, Can’t pay won’t pay and this goes on to show how access to quality education is but a long achievable goal in the country. Only less than 30 percent of children in Kenya are in private schools after the children of Kenyan elite long left public school education system after it was made “free for all”, leading to a one country, two nations’ class system according to one Kenyan economist.
Forty two percent of Kenya’s population of 44 million, live below the poverty line therefore you can imagine how access to quality education in the slums is minimal and even though there is a dominant presence of several community schools within the area, few parents can afford to prioritize education for their children due to the cost it incurs upon them. Community schools are schools started by people within the slums as a way to tackle the lack of accessibility within slum areas and in most cases they act as daycare centres for several children; they charge minimum fee to ensure maintenance of the schools and though it costs a bare minimum of just 25 dollars, which equates to 2500Ksh for a semester in school including food, that is more than most families can afford since they live on a budget of under a dollar a day.
16 year old Boniface ‘Henz’ has been born and raised in Mathare and understands the daily challenges of living within the slum area; and although indeed growing up in this area has come with its fair share of struggles, he is an individual who is not ashamed of where he comes from and has not let his situation define him
“When I was younger, I remember seeing my father abusing my mother physically and emotionally and it used to be everyday. I couldn’t understand why he would do this but it used to scare me and my brother and sister and when my mother finally decided to walk out on my father, it was one of the happiest days of my life”
Having no father around may have been great news, but it did take its toll on the family; they had to struggle to make ends meet. Boniface mother who works as a peanut vendor in the streets of Nairobi was not able to take care and provide for them as adequately as she desired and it was very hard on her
“ When my father left my mother got involved with several other men and all of them just never had any interest in taking care of my siblings and I. Each time she met someone new we would move to a new neighbourhood or new town and this would always affect our education because we would always be moved to a lower class”
“My mother realized how much these men were affecting us as a family and she eventually let go and we were finally just the 4 of us. I knew how hard it was for her to provide so by the time I was 11, I used to do manual jobs to pay for my fees I would do anything from hawking in the streets, farm or get manual jobs in construction sites and that is how I paid my way through primary school education and I am just grateful to see how far I have come”
Currently Boniface is a beneficiary of a project known as Mabawa Mathare (Wings Of Mathare) that was founded last year with the aim of creating opportunities for youth within Mathare slums to continue their studies into high school especially since it is almost impossible for people from poor backgrounds to access high school education since it is very costly.
In the slums, post completion of primary education is usually the end of the line for most students, as they see no hope of ever going to high school; girls opt to get married in the hope that this will give them a better future. If this option does not add up some turn to prostitution which is their ‘easy way’ out for survival. They barely make any money from prostitution since it only costs 50 shillings per session, an equivalent of around 0.5 USD, and that just allows them to afford a meal for the day.
Most boys resort to a life of crime and gang violence, get manual labor jobs in construction sites, or collect scrap metal or plastic bottles to sell. According to Boniface this was a life he had never envisioned for himself and he is in constant awe of landing this amazing opportunity,
“I was born and raised in Mathare and within this slum I have seen people I know get killed or arrested, if not they are in gangs and are addicted to several drugs but this has never and will never be an option for me. So the fact that I am in highschool now I am not taking it for granted, I want to be a doctor and I will make sure that dream comes to life”
Speaking very happily and proudly of his mother, he says that the reason he strives so much to stay educated is so that he can make life better for her and his siblings,
“My mother always teaches us to give whatever little we have to others in need and I have seen her on several occasions give even when we lacked for ourselves and I really admire her, she prays and works so hard daily, she is my inspiration and through education I will make sure I make life better for her and the rest of my family”
I also really admire my small sister because even before we could afford to take her to school she taught herself how to read and write through newspapers and books ; any book she found she would read and I can tell you for a fact that she is the smartest woman alive that I know and she deserves very much to be able to complete her education.
As I concluded my day with him, his last words were still centered on the need for education
“Here in Kenya our leaders are corrupt and without education, you cannot go far, so you need education and nothing else to make it in life so do not take the easy way out work hard, pray and believe in yourself and somehow everything will work out”