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By Dann Okoth

Although the free schooling programme succeeded in bringing nearly a million new students to school, more than a million school going age children in urban slums are not in schools.Educationists say this is because four essential features including availability, accessibility, acceptability and adaptability are lacking in the slums.

Acceptance Availability, according to the Convention on the Right to Education for All, means learning institutions and education programmes must be sufficient. It encompasses lack of discrimination, physical access and economic ability.Acceptability refers to the form of education including curriculum and teaching methods that are relevant, culturally appropriate and of high quality while adaptability involves change in response to the needs of society and pupils and reflect the diverse social and cultural settings.In Nairobi slums, lacks of schools impede implementation of free primary education.Corruption and discrimination have seen thousands of slum children drop out of school to engage in child labour and prostitution.

Mr James Ndiba, the chairman of Rights to Education advocacy group in Starehe Constituency says, most children are spurned by the high fees charged by informal and private schools."Many parents are unable to afford the Sh300-Sh1,500 charged by the schools hence they keep their child at home," he says.The children are often sucked into the informal employment sector where they are exploited by their employers, and exposed to physical and sexual abuse.Ms Phelomena Elizear, the secretary for Embakasi Constituency Right to Education advocacy group, says distance to learning institutions present a big challenge to the girls.

"Parents are reluctant to send their children to school because they are at risk of being waylaid and raped," she says. The problem is compounded by insecurity and poor infrastructure.Children living in slums cannot access schools in neighbouring estates due to discrimination. "A headmistress of a public primary school refused to enrol a child I took there because she came from a slum," she says.Grapple The head teacher said poor children could not pay ‘development’ fees.

In Dagoretti Constituency, reports the Rights to Education advocacy group, many children stay away from school because of hunger. "Parents find it difficult to compel their children to go to school on empty stomachs so they encourage them to join in the search for food for the family," says Mr Simon Omari.Others grapple with drug abuse and drug trafficking. "Drug abuse and trafficking is rampant in the constituency among parents. They end up dragging along their children," says Njoroge Mbugua of Kasarani Constituency. The advocacy groups are supported by Hakijamii Trust, an economic and social rights organisation spearheading efforts to create awareness through advocacy.

The trust has mobilised grassroots representatives to push the Government to institute policy changes that would make free primary education in such slums a reality.Working through Nairobi People Settlement Network, a federation of Community based Organisations in the eight constituencies in Nairobi, Hakijamii Trust hopes to tackle issues affecting the implementation of free primary education in the slums."We are starting in Nairobi but we will cover all slums in Kenya," says Odindo Opiata, Executive Director of the Trust.Kennedy Mukali of Makadara Constituency says their efforts are being hampered by lack of public schools in the slums. "We have are council schools which are often overcrowded and it is difficult to secure admission," he says.

According to Elijah O. Odhiambo, Hakijamii programme coordinator, education is a human right in itself and an indispensable means of realising other rights."Education is both a source of dignity and an essential part of the development of the human personality, so it is important for the Government to provide basic education for slum dwellers who constitute over 60 per cent of the city’s population," he says.Victor Odero, the Advisory Program Manager with Worldwide Concern, regrets that slums are not recognised in national policy hence the government has not provides critical services like education infrastructure, water and sanitation in the slums."We hope that through training and capacity building at community level especially in conjunction with the Constituency Development Fund, formal schools will be established in the slums," he says.