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 Wednesday, 8 January, 2003, 00:42 GMT
Kenyan scramble for free school places
Queues at Olympic school in Kenya
Parents have rushed to enrol their children

The demand for places at the Olympic Primary School in Nairobi is always heavy.

The school consistently ends each year near the top of Kenya's school league table.

17,000 public schools
6.3 million pupils
1.5 million new pupils to join first year this week
1991 - 95% enrolment
2001 - 78% enrolment
Source: Daily Nation

It is also situated in Kibera, Nairobi's largest slum where desperate parents will do anything to try to make sure their children have a better education than they had.

Some of these will be children whose parents could not have afforded school fees.

So when Kenya's new President Mwai Kibaki announced that primary education was now free, there was a stampede to the school gates.

Parents, who could not quite believe their luck, rushed to register their children at the popular school as the new term began.


Rose Atieno was one.

For her, the prospect of not having to pay the fee of almost $4 every month to educate her 10-year-old daughter Mary made all the difference.

Mary and her mother Rose
Mary is likely to get a place
"It was very difficult to get the money before," said Rose, who sells vegetables to men working on a building site to earn a living.

Mary is the second of Rose's four children, and paying school fees to educate all of them would, she said, have been almost impossible.

"I think we should only have to pay for uniforms like socks and sweaters," she says.

"The government should provide the books."

Mary is lucky. She was already a pupil at Olympic and so she will have a place when classes begin.


Little six-year-old Alan Oyalo must wait another day before he knows whether he will be joining her.

Alan and his father
Alan may not be accepted
Alan is not old enough to know how much hangs on the outcome, but his father Michael does.

"He went to a private nursery school, but I couldn't afford to pay primary fees," says Michael.

Michael and Alan have been standing in a queue waiting to add Alan's name to the school register.

"We have to come back tomorrow to find out if he has a place."

Michael thanks the new government for what it has done.

He lost his job four years ago and has been unemployed ever since.

"If education is free now and Alan is in school, it means I can organise myself a little too and perhaps find a job."

For Alan, finding a job is a long way in the future, but he knows what he wants if he gets the Olympic place. "I want to learn English and I want to be a doctor," he says.

And yes, he is positive that school is a good thing.

Capacity problem

Until last week when President Kibaki announced free primary education, parents had to pay for a variety of things.

We don't have enough desks or classrooms or teachers

James Kamanda, Olympic school.
On top of the basic fee there were charges for text books, water, electricity and maintenance, depending on the policy of the individual school.

Now parents should only pay for uniforms and stationary like exercise books and rubbers.

For some of Kibera's poorest residents, even this is too much.

"Where shall I get the money for a uniform?" asks Jane Muthoni.

Jane's daughter Eulalia is eight years old and has been attending a nearby school on and off, depending on whether her mother has any money.

Registering for school
Parents register and then face an anxious wait
Jane has registered her daughter for a place at Olympic and like dozens of other parents, now has to wait.

Many will be disappointed.

Olympic has a first year intake of 200 pupils, and the list was already full before President Kibaki's announcement brought another 300 hopefuls to the gate.

And the prospect of providing on-the-spot free education has rather horrified school committee members, who wonder where the money they need will come from.

"We don't have enough desks or classrooms or teachers," says James Kamanda.

"This should have been done according to a plan. Parents have been turning up here without birth certificates, trying to get underage children in. We're full."

But the parents know what their priorities are. One mother summed it up.

"With education my daughter can help build a nation. She'll even be able to depend on herself."

Kenyans choose a new president

Key stories

Inauguration day

Moi steps down




See also:

06 Jan 03 | Africa
03 Jan 03 | Africa
30 Dec 02 | Africa
13 Dec 02 | Media reports
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