NAIROBI, Kenya, Feb 9 – Social gratification could be linked to the swelling number of low-cost private schools in low and middle-income neighborhoods in the country.
According to Reuben Mwangi, Customer Insight Director for the Bridge International Academies, East Africa, parents with lower incomes would strive to educate their children in low-cost private schools as opposed to public schools offering free education so as to attain societal expectations of quality education.
Benjamin Piper, Senior Director in Africa Education for RTI International also said that low-cost private school were seen by most parents in Nairobi as superior to the local public schools.
“We also found evidence of a generational change – younger parents were more likely to have children in the private schools than older parents. This could be because younger parents are more likely to be educated themselves, and are therefore more sensitive to school quality.”
In Nairobi alone, over 50 per cent of primary school students are said to be attending private schools, a bulk of which are low-cost, an African Population and Health Research Center (APHRC) research shows.
Opinion has however been divided on factors compelling parents in low-income settlements to admit their children in these private schools despite the government having introduced Free Primary Education (FPE) in 2002.
Student enrollment in government-funded primary schools rose from 5.9 million in 2002 to 9.9 million in 2011 according to government statistics published in 2012.
“There’s a new definition in terms of social status. Even those who cannot afford what everyone in society could define as the best living, they want to secure their future through taking their child to a better school such that that is the child that secure their future,” Mwangi told Capital FM News on Thursday.
“Parents also look at themselves in terms of not wanting to be considered as the one who cannot afford and they’re willing to go an extra mile to be in a position to have that social status,” he said.
According to Mwangi, most parents schooling children in low-income private schools cumulatively earn about Sh13,000 every month with 2.5 children on average.
Schools located low-income neighborhoods, therefore, have to come up with affordable rates to make these schools accessible and enable sustainable operations.
Mwangi was quick to dismiss assertions that low-income schools such as Bridge International Academies which operates in Kenya, Uganda, Nigeria as well as India are often ill-equipped therefore falling short of standards set by the government saying to the contrary, such schools have often performed better than those funded by the State.
He was however of the opinion that there was a need for close supervision of teachers in public schools if learning outcomes are to improve.
Mwangi argued rampant cases of absenteeism by teachers contribute immensely to poor academic performance in public schools, a situation that continues to erode stakeholder confidence in the institutions.
Technology, he said, could come in handy in aiding school managers to ensure teachers turn up for classes and hence improve learning outcomes.
“Some schools are not even understaffed; they do have staff but they are not actually working,” he pointed out.
“At Bridge International Academies we make use of technology to be in a position to remotely monitor the attendance so that we can tell when a teacher is not in school and why,” said Mwangi.
Janet Muthoni, a small-scale trader in Embakasi, couldn’t agree more with Mwangi.
“I have three children at Bridge International Academy Kingston and their performance is impressive. This year I have a candidate in Class 8 and his performance had been impressive,” she said.
According to Mwangi, it is also important for school managers to work closely with parents in order to create synergy between teaching staff, parents, and students which is vital to enhancing the quality of education in schools.
“We start looking for teachers right from our communities and work closely with our parents and community leaders,” he remarked.
He also cited diversification of teaching methodologies as critical in ensuring improved performance at pre-tertiary institutions of learning, advising instructors to explore alternative ways of dispensing knowledge to achieve better learning outcomes.
“There are more than even ten ways of getting to understand Mathematics. There’s needed to come up with ways that could be easier for pupils to understand the curriculum – which is what we do at Bridge,” Mwangi explained.
Teachers must also seek to understand the pupils and students they instruct and where possible develop tailor-made approaches in helping students improve their performance, he added.
With the rollout of free (day) secondary education this year, Mwangi said the creation of awareness for government plans to ensure 100 per cent transition from primary to secondary schools to come to fruition.
“There no great coherence in terms of transition so we need to invest in infrastructure, but more importantly ensure parents understand the value of secondary education the way they understand the value of primary education,” he said.