Private sector must step in to boost education sector

March 6, 2012
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In Kenya alone, more than 205,000 students missed out on places in secondary schools in 2012/LAURA WALUBENGO
NAIROBI, Kenya, Mar 6 – The private sector has been challenged to fill in the massive gap in the education sector, by building schools that will cater for the thousands who miss out on primary and secondary education in the country.

Senior Director, Business Operations at Dubai-based Gems Education Dino Varkey has said that with the growth in population across the globe every year, it is hard for governments to constantly build schools to cater for the growing demand.

“The gap that we’re looking at in terms of education globally is well over 1 billion people. When you’ve got that kind of a context, what becomes apparent very quickly is that governments, on their own, cannot move quickly enough to cater to this demand, and so there is an inevitability there. Private sector will come in because they see an opportunity and fulfill that demand outright.”

In Kenya alone, more than 205,000 students missed out on places in secondary schools in 2012 and only a fraction of these will be absorbed into the few private schools in the country.

Varkey told Capital Newsbeat that educating children was integral to fulfilling the global Millennium Development Goals.

“One of the goals related to education is universal access to basic primary education and today that gap is to find the 70 million children that don’t have access to basic primary education. What about all of those children that are forced to opt out of secondary, for many many reasons? What if we were to extend our definition beyond just children?”

The Director’s argument is supported by the mere existence of GEMS Education, an education solutions provider that owns and operates several high performing schools across 11 countries.

“GEMS is currently the largest private caterer-of-education company around the world. We have educated about 100,000 students from 143 countries. Our milestone as an organization is to get to quality education.”

Varkey, whose father founded the organization said they have had talks with the government on how they can potentially support the education system in Kenya.

“One of the things we’re looking at is teacher training, because obviously that is one of the key pillars of improving an education system. We looking at leadership development and we’re going to be training about 3,000 principals in Kenya. We’re also looking at distance learning and how we can leverage an online solution to try and provide these teacher training programmes.”

He said that their discussions also looked at enhancing and modernizing aspects of the curriculum in line with best international practice. Varkey however hints that the winning formula lies in consistency and being stringent in implementing education strategies. He further says that education systems need to be devoid of political influence.

GEMS, meanwhile, has begun constructing an international school in the Karen area. The new facility will feature among other things an Olympic size pool and operate under the Cambridge system of education.

“According to our research, the Cambridge system is very popular in this part of the world. The school that we build in terms of facilities and infrastructure would be very attractive to a range of professional people and their children in the Karen area,” according to David McLaughlin, Principal of Cambridge International School Dubai, who is actively involved in setting up the school.

He added that a similar school would be set up in Kampala, Uganda in the near future.

The new school would have a capacity to absorb a few thousand children when complete, to offer primary, secondary and A level education.

“The Cambridge system is well known and well respected and is a strong curriculum. But certainly it has to be localised; we have to be reflective of what would be expected in the local areas such as Swahili, etc. It’s our first venture into Africa and investment is somewhere between $40-50m,” said McLaughlin.

Varkey observed that with education, the ultimate challenge is: “can we create affordable solutions for the majority of people in Kenya, as an alternative? As an alternative to government sector education; something that collaborates and supports government sector education… The more choice you can bring into a system, it can only be good.”

A long term horizon, he concludes, will guarantee that the education system will reap the financial benefits that any business is looking for.

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