Education financing options for Kenya in the post-Covid world

Monday, February 8th, 2021 00:00 |
A resident of Biafra estate in Nairobi’s Eastleigh area undergoes Covid testing, last year. Photo/PD/File

John Okul

The effects of the coronavirus pandemic will reverberate many years to come across sectors in different countries.

One of the most conspicuous sectors at the centre of the reckoning is education.

Covid-19 disrupted education impacting over 80 per cent of the world’s student population and about 18 million learners in Kenya, and in the process creating a series of dilemmas for schools, families and learners. 

In the Kenyan context, the pandemic besides exposing the deep-seated inequalities, has served added strain to the already shrinking funding sources to the sector.

The pre-pandemic education sector was already grappling with limited budgetary allocations from the Treasury against the backdrop of increased spending needs and enrolment numbers.

There is also the prioritisation of infrastructural expansion to accommodate rising student numbers (a legacy of the Free Primary Education (FPE) initiative launched in 2003 by the former President Mwai Kibaki administration at the basic, high school, and tertiary levels.

These needs did not dissipate with Covid-19, instead, they have been amplified. Evidently, Kenya should have prepared better for the crisis. 

While the Covid-19 vaccine rollout across major capitals and soon in Africa is a good sign, it is unlikely that ramifications of the pandemic on the education sector will suddenly dissipate. 

Consequently, policymakers should now grapple more with the future of education financing.

Covid-19 has also exposed the underbelly of the persistent corruption epidemic that has faced the country for many years.

The Ministry of Education, like many other sectors, has been at the eye of this storm, with scandals master-minded spanning several administrations.

The net consequences have been resource wastage, denial of education to deserving students, at all levels among others. 

The onset of Covid-19 seems to have worsened an already dire situation.

The pandemic has led the government to effect budget slashing or reprioritising and going on a borrowing spree to tackle an unprecedented crisis.

Whilst these manoeuvres were morally justifiable, they in retrospect, generated a latent consequence – #covidmillionaires, a product of irregular procurement of medical supplies to combat Covid-19. 

Schools, are struggling to overcome the twin challenge of shrunken funding from public and donor sources and increased cost of school reopening due to MoH-related hygiene and social distancing measures.

Most private schools, on the other hand, face the double-blow of depleted funding sources, in addition to the huge debt burden accumulated during the pandemic. 

There are a few ways that our education system can cope with funding deficiencies: First, energy and resources should be directed towards revitalising the economy to boost household income, with its ripple effects being felt in increased investment in education.

This will help avert shifts in enrolment from private to public schools. 

Second, the government should work towards incrementally adjusting the education budget alongside addressing the health and economic shocks of Covid-19 as a trade-off to avoid the detrimental impact on education outcomes, such as school dropout.

Then, there is a need to build synergies with all stakeholders in the education sector to deliberate over how things run. 

Moving forward, if Covid-19 has clarified for us the need for change in the way our education system runs, it has left the government largely exposed.  The writer is an academic consultant and lecturer at the University of Nairobi.

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