When it comes to education, the role of the non-state sector has been a hot topic of late.  In part the global debate has been sparked by the launch of the Abidjan Principles, which “unpack and compile existing provisions in international human rights law and provide guidance on how to put them into practice in the context of the rapid expansion of private sector involvement in education.”

Dignitas agrees with the ‘Ten Overarching Principles’ that make up the Abidjan Principles.  Yes – every child has the right to a quality education.  Yes – the government of any country has an obligation to prioritize this provision over other investments.  Quality, public provision for every child without discrimination (economic, gender, religious, ethnic, social or otherwise) absolutely should be the ideal that we all, as education actors, are in consistent pursuit of.  However, sadly, in Kenya, and many other parts of the region, quality government provision for all is not the reality.

The work of Dignitas was founded out of this very reality.  With a strongly held belief that every child deserves an excellent education, Dignitas sought to deliver just that to thousands of children who were excluded from public provision.

Up to 60% of Kenya’s urban population live in ‘slums’ or informal settlements, yet these large populations are typically served by a minimal number of public primary schools, forcing up to 80% of children in some informal settlements into low-cost private schools.  The largest majority of these low-cost private schools are single proprietor schools, established by members of those same communities who are often simply responding to the needs of local children, and for the most part, very far from profit-making.  Of course, there are larger chains, who I believe distort some of the conversation on this topic, and possibly even some of the sector-wide deliberations on enabling policy and regulatory frameworks.

What does the Dignitas team believe?

  • Every child deserves an excellent education
  • The Abidjan principles are a useful guide for governments and other education sector stakeholders
  • There are significant gaps in the current government provision of quality education in Kenya
  • To ensure EVERY child gets the quality of education they deserve, Dignitas and others must intervene to bridge these gaps
  • Interventions should most often be designed with three things in mind:
    1. Healthy development and community ownership principles
    2. Alignment with government policy and strategy
    3. A rights based approach, that broadens opportunities for children to access a rightfully deserved quality, public education

Most importantly, education actors should not exploit gaps in government provision, but should only bridge those gaps and, ideally, bridge those gaps temporarily, until the government is in a position to provide for EVERY child.  If, in the process, education actors learn what works in education, develop solutions, or identify areas of innovation that will help to build a quality, public provision for all, then these should be shared with government, in a way that genuinely contributes to the broader development of a public system that serves the rights of every child well.

As education actors who work, in part, in non-state schools, we need to be willing to ask ourselves some hard questions.  Are we working with non-state schools who bridge a real gap?  Are we working with schools whose first priority is nurturing thriving children?  Are we working with actors who bridge, and never exploit for their own gain, the gaps in government provision?  It is only then that we can begin to hold ourselves (and others) accountable as individuals, as leaders, and as organizations.

Contributor: Deborah Kimathi – Executive Director