Every child should have a right to receive a quality education.”
– Bill First.
Five years ago this weekend, the country was treated to disturbing photos of children from Lang’ata Road Primary School being tear-gassed as they protested the grabbing of their school land. This blatant attempt at grabbing school land continues to be the experience of other public schools across the country, including Naka Primary School in Nakuru, Uhuru Secondary School in Nairobi and Mwamdudu Primary School in Kwale County to sample but a few. The peculiar appetite and impunity by grabbers of public school land has been brought to the public limelight by such cases.
While land remains a vital resource especially in Sub-Saharan Africa, corruption in the sector is also rampant. This appetite for land has not spared public school land. There are many reasons why public school land remains appealing to grabbers and cartels. Schools, especially in urban areas occupy land in prime locations and hence are highly priced. The majority of schools do not have documentary evidence of the size of their school land. Most school heads do not keep adequate records on their schools. Some may even be ignorant of the school boundaries, a matter complicated by the fact that head teachers and principals may not spend a considerable period of time in one school. And given the delocalization policy, some of them may not have affinity to their locations, beyond heading their institutions.
Despite these myriad challenges, there are many reasons to protect our public schools. The right to education is not only protected by Article 53 of our Constitution but access to quality education is one of the 17 globally driven Sustainable Development Goals. Education provides the perfect path to bridge the gap between different cultures, different economic classes and to fight against ignorance and poverty. It is a key tool in empowering communities to make decisions that improve their lives. Closer home, it remains the bedrock of our country’s development including the realization of the Big 4 Agenda and Vision 2030.
It is for this reason that civil society actors and government efforts to protect public school land must be lauded. Since the Lang’ata Road Primary School case, progress has been through the accelerated titling exercise by the National Lands Commission, Ministry of Education, Ministry of Lands and the Shule Yangu Alliance for the Protection of Public School Land. Over 4,000 schools have since received title deeds over 2017. The latest of these were 240 title deeds issued to schools drawn from Siaya and Kisumu Counties in December 2018. Additionally, data on the titling status of over 20,000 schools from 27 counties has been collected. The number of citizens acting, individually and collectively through resident associations, to protect schools at risk has also risen, pointing to more awareness and agency.
Despite these efforts many schools remain without title deeds. Lack of clear policies on sponsored schools, succession issues on land gifted to schools, court cases facing schools and lack of adequate records remain some of encumbrances to school titling. The convening of an Inter-Ministerial Legal Working Group by the National Land Commission is therefore an exercise in the right direction as it will ensure these issues are looked into.
The issue of school titling is an exercise that cannot be left to government agencies alone. While the titling of public schools is an important step, their protection and ownership is just as important. Cases of school land being sold through collusion of school boards of management and headteachers with private individuals, corporates and government officials exist. It is therefore important that a movement centered around parents, school old boys and girls (alumni) and citizens is strengthened. Ensuring school boundaries remain intact long after their departure is a role that alumni can play. Fencing of these schools would also act as a deterrent to would be grabbers and encroachers.
Kenya’s development is at a critical stage. The take off to the next stage can only be supported by an educated populace able to provide skilled labor. This can only be guaranteed by ensuring that the right to affordable and accessible education remains within reach for Kenyans. However, this will only be possible if the sustainability of our learning institutions at all levels is assured. The protection and ownership of our public schools must therefore be a concerted effort of all stakeholders, including citizens. It is the least we can do for the next generation.
This article was first published by The People Daily on Monday January 21, 2019.