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Is Private Education Really Necessary?

action2africa020Sometimes, when we tell people that a big part of Action Two Africa’s mission is to put children into private schools in Kenya, we worry that this concept might be misunderstood.

In 2003, Kenya’s president made primary education (1st through 8th grade) free. This fact might lead one to ask, “Then why are donations and sponsorships necessary to send children to school?” Great question. But one that cannot be answered unless we explain how the free, government-run, public-school system really works.

In the developed world, we tend to think of private schools as being reserved for the small fraction of the elite who can afford the high tuition fees. Most of us were educated in public schools and we tend to think that they’re “good enough.” But that’s not necessarily the case in Africa.

The fact is, the public school system in Kenya is failing the children and families that rely on it. A recent study by the World Bank reported that public teacher-absenteeism rates were as high as 15-25% in Africa. A third of children who have finished four years of school cannot read at the minimum expected standard. Often times, the fees charged by government-run schools are just as high as those charged by private schools.

I’ll give you a real-life example Christina and I experienced when we were in East Africa. Where we lived in Kenya, most children learn both Swahili and English in school. One of our good friends told us that when she could no longer afford private school fees for her son, she had to send him back to a government school. Instead of continuing his English-language learning, her son actually started to forget it, because the quality of the instruction he was receiving was so poor. His mother told us that in the government schools, they would often pack 50 or more children into a single classroom. The students were often out of control, and the teachers usually ended up doing more “damage-control” than they did actual teaching. This continued for several months until our friend’s son could hardly remember any English at all.

This is not uncommon in public schools in Africa. Teacher-to-student ratios often approach dangerous levels. Classrooms are often cramped, ill-equipped, and far below healthy standards for sanitation and safety. Private schools have cropped up all over East Africa in response to this shortcoming in the education system.

Private schools offer quality education at a reasonable price. Studies show that the children educated at private institutions are generally performing better than those educated at public schools. The level of teaching is generally higher, and there are fewer strikes at private schools, leading to a higher percentage of teachers that show up to class. Because local investors, churches, and organizations are profiting from private schools that thrive, the local economy is also being boosted.

This is why we at Action Two Africa put such a high emphasis on getting children in our Child Sponsorship Program into private schools. We are dedicated to ensuring that these children experience a quality education. Each school that we send children to has been hand-picked and examined by Humphrey, Action Two Africa’s founder, CEO, and a long-time resident of the Kiambiu community. Humphrey understands the school system better than any of us do. In fact, he used to be a teacher right here in Kiambiu!

We understand the concern about the cost of children being put in private schools, but in Africa, it’s much better than the alternative: a poor-quality public education, or worse—no education at all.