Kenya grapples with challenges of adult literacy education
Kenya is at crossroads in terms of managing adult literacy because of funding constraints and inadequate human resources.
The fact that the country has not undertaken a national literacy survey in several years is an indicator that the government is not keen on the sector.
A huge chunk of Education ministry funds go to basic education and salaries thus only peanuts are left for the Directorate of Adult and Continuing Education.
The latest statistics by Unicef indicate that Kenya’s overall literacy level is at 78 per cent. The global literacy rate for all males is 90 per cent and 82.7 per cent for females.
The Director State Department of Basic Education, Directorate of Adult and Continuing Education, Irreneous Kinara, says his department suffers because the adult literacy programme lacks sustainable financial support. “For instance, we have never recruited new teachers since 2010,” he says.
Worse, the turnaround of teachers is high due to retirement, resignation or deaths. “We are forced to use volunteers who are only temporary workers,” adds Kinara.
The department is allocated an annual budget of Sh80 million. This money is supposed to cater for 4,310 centres across the 47 counties with a workforce of only 1,164 hired teachers in the system.
This lean staff is boosted by 3,000 part-time teachers. According to March 2019 ministerial data, at least 215,101 learners are enrolled in the programme.
In the 2019-2020 budget, the education sector received Sh208.9 billion, the biggest share of government allocations to ministries. Sh55.4 billion was allocated to free day secondary education while Sh13.4 billion is for the free primary education.
Another Sh3.2 billion was set aside for recruitment of teachers, Sh1.5 billion for infrastructure development and Sh10.3 billion for tuition and tools support. The adult education sector was allocated Sh80 million only.
The international standard of budget allotment for adult education programmes is usually three per cent but in Kenya, only one per cent is given to the department. Policy makers are now on the spotlight on the viability of the project given the meagre funding.
The ideal situation would be that all the 325 sub-counties be put under an Adult Education Officer to ensure effective monitoring of the programme at the grassroots.
Kinara admits that without key infrastructure and learning resources, the department is strained and the quality of training compromised. “We are forced to seek partnerships with established schools for space and seek help from well-wishers,” he says.
Class attendance is a big concern, too. Joseph Okemwa, the Principal Adult Education Officer at the ministry, says: “Adults have a different mind-set from children; you cannot really control what they want.
So our programme is flexible since we have to accommodate their demands. This is why we offer a six-month elementary course which focuses on skills development,” he says.
Despite the pitfalls, educationist Patience Moraa of Elimu Sasa has hailed the push by the ministry to try and recognise the importance of adult literacy classes. “It is commendable to see that the government is keen on improving literacy levels across the age groups,” she says.
She says what needs to be done in the long term is to identify reliable and committed partners to see that the programme is sustained.
“It can be a heavy burden if all eyes are put on one stream of getting funds, thus the directorate has to be progressive in their thinking and accommodate of new ideas that can help move the programme forward,” says Moraa.
International Literacy Day, celebrated annually on September 8, is an opportunity to reflect on the world’s literacy challenges.