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Crossing Continents Wednesday, 7 May, 2003, 14:34 GMT 15:34 UK
Free education hits hurdles in Kenya
Daniel in his classroom with other children
Daniel is eight years older than his classmates

Crossing Continents visits Kenya and speaks to 14-year-old Daniel and his teachers about the hurdles they face in the new free primary education system.

"I feel hungry but I have to bear it because school is more important to me."

Daniel is 14-years-old, but he looks nine or 10.

This small, undernourished boy, in tattered blue shirt and shoes that are falling apart, leaves for school each morning at 0700.

I feel bad because all the other children are younger

Daniel
For breakfast he just has a cup of tea. He does not eat until he gets ugali - a food made of maize - when he gets home in the afternoon.

But Daniel is happy. "I am clever," he says.

For the first time in years he has gone back to school. Now, thanks to the new government's free primary schooling policy, Daniel is learning to read and write.

Open in new window : Picture gallery
Life as a schoolchild in Kenya

Age difference

Daniel with his teacher
Daniel's teacher has great confidence in his abilities

His classmates at the Dagoretti Muslim school are six-years-old.

"I feel bad because all the other children are younger and I am older... They say I am too old and I am in class one."

"He is doing well," says his teacher. "He is a good boy. One day he will be a very good boy."

She seems to have a soft spot for him.

"He has no problem being there because he is eager to learn. If you find him out of school, you know it must be something serious," she tells the programme.

The teacher says he is like a big brother to the six-year-olds in his class.

Poverty

Daniel's home
Daniel's family live in a Nairobi slum

Daniel lives with his six brothers, sister and mother in the Nairobi slum of Kawangware.

Their home is a tiny metal shack.

Looking closely at it, you can see it is made of rusty old paint tins, cut open and flattened out.

Here and there you can still make out the words: Crown Paints.

In 1998 Daniel started primary school but soon had to drop out because his mother could not afford the fees, let alone the uniform and books.

"I thank God for free education. I am so happy and I hope that Daniel continues to go to school... God could use him to help this household," she tells us proudly.

Crowded classrooms

For children like Daniel, the government's free primary school policy has been a blessing.

Since the policy was announced, millions of new pupils have swamped the schools, looking for their chance in life.

The pressure was too much, I had to run away

Headmistress Anna Nganga

The policy is undoubtedly popular. But it has been done on the cheap.

There is no money for new teachers or classrooms. So class sizes have doubled.

Schools like the Olympic Primary, on the edge of the Kibera slum in Nairobi, have been hit hard.

With its reputation for excellence it became the school all parents wanted for their children.

"The pressure was too much, I had to run away," says headmistress Anna Nganga.

"I stayed away for two weeks... until we had enough security."

School squatted

Headmistress Anna Nganga
Headmistress Anna Nganga hopes things will get better

The police, the director of city education and even the minister of education had to step in when thousands of parents invaded the school and squatted there for two weeks, demanding their children be educated.

The school took on an extra 540 pupils and set up 10 new classes.

But with no extra teachers, the existing ones are finding it tough.

"You really get tired in the afternoon," said one of the teachers, Mrs Iro.

"And we cannot prepare. Now I am in class throughout, just teaching continuously, no lesson notes. It is not good."

But Mrs Nganga is hoping things will improve: "I believe it will change. I do not want to think of the negative things. But if there is no change, we will not be able to excel in the way we have been doing."

Strike threat

Matters are coming to a head. Teachers have rejected a government pay policy which would have given them a rise spread over 10 years.

They are threatening to strike, unless the new government honours its promise to give them pay increases that were agreed but never implemented in 1997.

Whatever happens, Daniel's mother Teresia can now dream of a better future for her son.

And at least, with free education, there is a chance Daniel will fulfil his own dream, to be an airline pilot.

BBC Radio 4's Crossing Continents was broadcast on Thursday, 8 May, 2003 at 1100 BST.

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22 Apr 03 | Business
08 Jan 03 | Education
08 Apr 03 | Africa
05 Mar 03 | Country profiles
01 May 03 | Crossing Continents
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