KIRUKU: Since Soweto, the African child has been weeping…
In a depressing indication of how little we regard children issues in the region, the International Day of the African Child passed quietly this year. There was no mention of the day – which is commemorated on 16 June every year – from not only the East African Community leaders but also the media and non-governmental organisations.
This is a day that has been celebrated every year since 1991, when it was first initiated by the Organisation of African Unity, currently the African Union. It honours those who participated in the Soweto uprising on 16June 1976. On that day, about 10,000 black schoolchildren marched in a column more than half a mile long, protesting the poor quality of their education and demanding their right to be taught in their own language.
The day was also meant to raise awareness of the continuing need to improve the education provided to African children. It is unfortunate, therefore, that the educational needs of the African child are far from being met in the region– more than 25 years after the inception of this special day.
Children still have to still travel long distances to access educational institutions, while facilities in the available schools are not substandard and inadequate. The few available learning institutions have been neglected, with many of them collapsing during heavy rains or strong winds. Classrooms tend to be old and dilapidated.
Inadequate resources are set aside to meet current and emerging priorities in education. Indeed, public funding of the education sector has been declining overtime. This is despite the increasing population, leading to congestion in schools. As a result, enormous pressure is put on existing ageing facilities in public schools, resulting in poor quality of service delivery.
Plans to attain Universal Primary Education have seen some regional countries declare free primary education without a corresponding investment in the sector. This has led, sadly, to deteriorating standards of education. In turn, this lowers the global competence and competitiveness of local learners.
Worst hit by these circumstances are children from poor marginalised communities and slum dwellers, especially girls. This explains the rising girl-child school dropout. The escalating cost of living, coupled with debilitating poverty across the East African Community partner states, are not helping matters.
Girls everywhere are dropping out of school due to teenage pregnancy, sexual harassment, and the pervasive retrogressive cultural practices of female genital mutilation and early marriages.
For boys, drugs and substance abuse are a key factor, exacerbated by an indifference to education brought about by the unemployment situation of those who have gone through the system before them.
Limited access to education for marginalized groups and those in post-conflict areas has negatively affected not only enrolment, but also retention of children in schools. Decades of marginalization, insecurity, non-recognition of land rights, poor infrastructure, and limited exposure to commercialization have all worked together to make traditional pastoralists some of the poorest, most vulnerable and disenfranchised people in the world.
It is sickening that our leaders have been taking advantage of the poor economic status and low literacy levels of pastoralist communities to make empty promises during election campaigns. The never-ending challenges of pastoralists have therefore been transferred from one regime to another.
Although there has been a remarkable change in the sector over the past years, especially since the inception of the Universal Education programmes and liberalisation of the sector, a lot still needs to be one. More schools, institutions, colleges and universities have been established by the private sector, and enrolment in all these institutions have increased exponentially. The private sector participation in the education sector has also been remarkable to the extent that education is increasingly being seen as an export sector.
The quality of education offered in our institutions is pivotal for the production of human capital and this cannot be compromised by failing to refocus on matters of quality. The inputs in the system – such as trained and motivated teachers, adequate buildings and classrooms, sanitation facilities, clean water, textbooks and other instructional materials – must be sufficiently provided. This is in addition to strong leadership with the vision to steer the sector through the winds of change and bring about the desired outcomes.
Education is the only weapon we can use to change the world; quality education is key to economic and social development of the region. Investing in education is not an option for any government that is working for its people; it is an imperative.
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