An article by Sam Otieno in The Standard caught my eye yesterday, when it noted that 250,000 children would be unable to secure a secondary school place. This year, only 64.2% of primary school students will go on to secondary school education. And that stores up nothing but trouble for the future.
According to UN statistics, 43% of Kenya’s population is under the age of 15. If 250,000 of these children are leaving school with only a secondary education, do not expect to see poverty reduced at any time. With even the lowliest office jobs today requiring a degree or at least some form of tertiary education, these children are being thrown on the scrapheap before they have had a chance to participate in the economy.
Do we really expect all of these children to become house helps, or waiters? They can’t all start their own businesses or work their way up from the bottom of an organisation. Those who are not incredibly resourceful or lucky will find themselves on the lowest rung of society, scrabbling to make a living while the rest of us attempt to move forward into a 21st-century economy.
Youth unemployment was already an urgent issue, and it appears that it is only going to get worse. Without an education, young people are economically disenfranchised, and will be forced to make their living in the informal or black markets. Some will turn to crime. But the worst effect will be an increase in civil unrest and the disintegration of social cohesion. If the unemployed do not feel they have a stake in society, why would they bother to respect and uphold its values?
What is urgently needed is an increase in access to secondary education; the government ought to be aiming for universal access. It is impossible to build an equitable society while ignoring the plight of a quarter of a million people annually. Measures need to be put in place whereby those who do not enter into a formal secondary education nevertheless have access to continued training and preparation for work. It is vital that as we move forward, we take as many people with us as possible. Otherwise any “progress” will be short-lived indeed.
[Image by Steve Punter]