The Children Of The Poor Must Be Educated At Common Expense

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Thomas Jefferson wrote 100 years ago that “the children of the poor must be educated at common expense.” Today, scholarships open doors for students from low-income families, by providing financial aid for those who need it most.

Optiven Foundation has been a partner to these needy students for over two years now, having over 20 beneficiaries through its Soaring Eagles Scholarship Fund in over 14 counties.

When the Foundation began its scholarship program in 2016, we set a budget of Ksh. 70,000 per student, per year. We did our budget according to the fee structures that the students were issued with upon admission, whose figures were utmost Kes 56, 000.

This however changed when we did the back-to-school shopping, the books were very highly priced and some demands from the schools were seemingly unbelievable, when a school asks for 4 reams of photocopying papers, you tend to wonder what they will be used for. These shocking revelations did not cease.

When students came home after the end of first term, the fees structures stated that they had balances in school that had to be cleared by reporting day. The increment for 2nd term went up by over 50%, translating to Kes. 90,000 annually instead of the targeted Kes. 56,000 per student.

Well, this definitely interfered with the Foundation’s set budget though we still had to ensure that our Eaglets are in school and on time. We wanted to find out the reason behind the increment but the schools have mastered the art of increasing fees undetected by writing down numerous requirements in fine print. Maybe the rapidly growing size of population, shortage of teachers, books and basic facilities, and insufficient public funds to cover education costs, are some of the challenges that are pushing the schools to increase their fees.

Children are entitled to free, quality and basic education. Recognizing this entitlement, world leaders successfully established universal primary education as one of the Millennium Development Goals, by 2015.

In 2004, this goal appeared to be out of reach for many poor countries. School attendance, especially for girls, is far from universal, and many children drop out of school before completing their primary education. Most children who attend school receive substandard education because of poorly trained, underpaid teachers, overcrowded classrooms, and a lack of basic teaching tools such as textbooks, blackboards, pens and paper.

The issue gets worse for those who go to secondary education. Many children in poor countries drop out of school before graduating. In 1999, the completion rate – the percentage of children of graduating age who actually completed primary school that – was 73 percent in developing countries as a group – 81 percent in East Asia, compared with 50 percent in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. As discouraging as these figures are, they too, represent an improvement: completion rates were lower in 1990. This is because, there is no free secondary education, thus a larger number of primary school pupils end up dropping out and those who manage have to struggle through unforeseen fee increment.

The problem in many developing countries is that governments lack either the financial resources or the political goodwill to meet their citizens’ educational needs. In response, poor parents have organized and paid for their children’s education themselves. It is true that school fees and other utilities are a heavy burden for some parents but, given the alternative – children receiving no education at all. Such payments can represent a temporary, if less than ideal, solution to the problem.

Where, when and why do you come in?

  • Give a student a chance at a brighter future.
    When students are awarded on their educational achievements, they are given a fair shot at success. Scholarship programs give children, from low-income families the chance to attend a school of their choice. Giving families access to educational opportunities rewards us as a community, state and nation, since when the beneficiary becomes an adult, he is not only able to survive, but thrive as well.
  • Personal satisfaction
    Of course many will say that helping those in need “is the right thing to do,” but there’s more to it than that. Harvard Business School’s Professor Michael Norton et al conducted a 2008 study to examine if there exists a direct connection between one’s financial and emotional wealth. The study showed that “those who reported spending more on others, what the team called ‘prosocial’ spending, also reported a greater level of happiness, while how much they spent on themselves had no impact on happiness.” That’s right, spending money on someone else can make you even happier than spending it on yourself!
  • Improve the systems
    Since basic education is a recognized entitlement and society benefits when children are educated, the state should bear the cost, especially for poor children.

The government may not have the resources to provide free education for all, either because there is a large, untaxed shadow economy and the tax base is small, or because tax administration and collection are ineffective. Maybe funds are poorly managed, and inefficiency or outright corruption may prevent resources from reaching schools.

Although correcting these deficiencies is clearly a priority, it will take time. What can be done in the meantime to ensure that poor children in poor countries get an education? Are you there and you are the one in charge of handling systems and policies that influence education systems in Kenya?

What can the parents pay for and what can the government cater for? School fees may cover teachers’ and administrators’ salaries, materials such as pencils and textbooks, and school maintenance. Can the parents make payments in kind, for example, providing food for the teachers, assisting in the classroom, or contributing their labor for school construction or maintenance? It is important to examine the effect of such user payments on education before deciding whether they should be continued, reformed, or prohibited.

Corruption is another reason poor children in poor countries may not have access to quality government-financed schools. Government officials may shun spending on schools in favor of big-ticket items such as defence or road construction, for example, since funding such departments make it easier to divert and such projects are likely to involve kickbacks. What can you do about corruption in Kenya?

It is our responsibility to keep the bright but needy students in school. Optiven Foundation is doing it, you can partner with us also, and together we can improve the quality of education we are giving to the students. We can work on proper systems and policies.

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