EDITORIAL: Parties must do more on free education promise

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Kenya’s two main political parties – the Jubilee Party and the National Super Alliance – have both gone out of their way to promise free secondary education should they win this year’s General Election. Whereas this in itself sounds like a lofty aspiration, neither of the parties has outlined how they expect to achieve this goal.

Whereas it is easy for politicians to make elections pledges, the public must put them to account now so that they can elaborate how they intend to achieve that dream without watering down the quality of education.

Already, public schools are facing a shortage of teachers. Any promise of offering free schooling must, of necessity, be backed by a plan on what either party intends to do to bridge the teacher-to-student ratio and how it intends to raise the money to fit their salary bill.

They must also demonstrate that they have an admissions policy, otherwise elderly people will show up when schools re-open and demand to be admitted solely on the grounds that education has been made free.

More importantly, there must be a concrete plan about what will happen to all the beneficiaries of free secondary education. Will the government put in place a system to ensure that they do not waste their talents and opportunities once they finish Form Four?

Free secondary education ought not to be offered as an end in itself. It must promise a social benefit both to the beneficiaries and to the taxpayers who will foot the bill. Over and above promising, the programme must deliver tangible results for the country to justify the huge capital investment.

As such, voters must put pressure on political leaders to demonstrate that they have thought through their promise and they have a clear idea that the collective benefit that funding free secondary education through taxpayer money will give Kenya value for money. It is not enough for political leaders to say they were the first to make the promise. That is besides the point. What Kenyans need to see is a map of how that promise will be implemented, what it will cost and what the return on the tax investment will be.