“Free” Education Or “Freed” Education?

Published on 8th May 2007

Picture what would happen if the government provided free food for everyone… Political battles would dictate which foods are available. If you did not like the choice, you would attend “food board” meetings and lobby state legislators to vary the menu. Food would become more expensive as its quality deteriorates. That is what is happening to our schools.

In what is seen as a campaign tool by political pundits in Kenya, Kibaki’s government, following the footsteps of Yoweri Museveni’s in Uganda, doled out Kshs. 4.3 billion subsidies for secondary schools to cater for tuition. Raila Odinga, a presidential hopeful, promised to go beyond “subsidized education” to “free and compulsory primary and secondary school education.” 

Whereas the subsidy is expected to increase secondary school enrollment by more than a million students in the next 4 years, parents should consider whether they will be better off in the long run.

The influx will most likely strain the existing physical facilities and human resources, triggering schools to slap building and expansion levies on parents, as the government taxes the citizens more- not only to raise the tuition fee for the bulging numbers, but to pay teachers’ salaries. This will adversely affect money that would have been allocated to other sectors. The sectors will in turn create ways to meet the deficit by extorting more money from citizens.

There is no such thing as ‘free’ education. A government has nothing to give anybody except what it first takes from somebody. A government that is big enough to give you everything you want is big enough to take away everything you’ve got. When somebody spends somebody else’s money on somebody else, prudence is thrown out of the window!

Whereas subsidizing education and making it compulsory is meant to enhance democracy, productivity and literacy, “it should not be done hurriedly as it congests classrooms and compromises education standards,” says Moi, Kenya’s retired president. In the US, for example, only 75 percent of students who join high school graduate and most of them are functionally illiterate, with 20 percent being unable to read a newspaper or write a letter.

Instead of dishing out free goodies, the government should consider providing a suitable environment for individuals to manufacture the goodies, consequently enabling edupreneurs to thrive and run schools like supermarkets. This will increase the number of schools, offer a varied curriculum, improve product quality and cut down on costs. Clinging on such conditions as classroom size, playground availability, and government accredited teacher is deliberate lagging behind in a rapidly globalizing world, where technology is solving many challenges such as reducing space and time. Someone can now run 50Kms in his room by using gym equipment. 

The key is cutting down on taxes. This will reduce prices of school equipment consequently reducing school fees. Also, it will enable citizens to save, invest in other income generating activities, widen choice and dictate education that is relevant to local, country and global needs.

Citizens should beware of policy makers who promise “free” goodies. This is presenting the country's minds to foreign dictates on a silver platter, in the name of meeting millenium development goals.

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