One of the six Education For All (EFA) goals reached at by the 164 countries that met in Dakar, Senegal in the year 2000 was to ensure universal primary education for all children by the year 2015. Kenya has been making some strides towards this end with the Free Primary Education program rolled out some years back. Even though as a country we are unlikely to reach the goal by next year, that we are on track is plausible.
It is therefore, quite disappointing to note that one of the rules set for this years’ Kenya Music Festival does not promote this Universal Education end but instead discriminates against some students. According to the Kenya Music Festival guidelines 2014, Lower primary (class 1-3) pupils eligible to participate in the festival should be aged between 6-8years. Those in upper primary (class 4-8) are to be between the ages of 9-13 years.
Obeying this rule would therefore mean that any child in lower and upper primary who are above the ages of 8 and 13 respectively are automatically locked out of the competition because of their age without considering whether they’d like to participate in the festival or not.
This age rule doesn’t make sense in a country that is doing all it can to increase total enrollment in schools and to ensure that those who enroll, despite their age, progress through the system and complete the education cycle.
So how exactly is the rule unfair?
According to the UNESCO Education For All Global Monitoring Report for 2012, 41% of the children starting primary school in rural Sub-Saharan Africa are two or more years older than the official school entry age. This is attributed to a number of factors among them poverty, whereby poor children are likely to live far away from school and yet their parents cannot afford the cost of transport making it necessary for the parents to wait for the child to become old enough to walk the long distances to school hence the delay in enrollment. The problem is made worse for the girls as the parents are also concerned about their safety on the long trips to school. Another factor that leads to late enrolment is when the parents are unschooled hence not well informed on the importance of enrolling at the right age. Nutrition and health status of poor children also delays their enrollment age.
The above factors largely affect schooling especially in rural parts of Kenya. Moreover, it is clear that the student who is enrolled late isn’t at all to blame. Consequently, punishing this child by keeping them off extracurricular activities they’d want to participate in is unwise.
Already, a child enrolled late into school is disadvantaged as they are more likely to drop out because of a wide range of issues among them :The huge age difference between them and the younger pupils which prevent them from integrating well with younger children, curriculum material and pedagogical approaches used which are designed in favour of much younger children, and the older children’s maturity which exposes their parents to other seemingly attractive alternatives like marrying them off or getting them to work to supplement family income
With the sensitive nature of the Education For All goal, and the listed challenges in perspective, it would therefore be in good taste if the stakeholders in education would be careful when coming up with policies to ensure they are learner-friendly and that they uphold the desirable end of encouraging children to get into and stay in school and not making them feel left out, condemned or discriminated against because of their age, gender or social-economic status.
The Kenya Music Festival organizers should therefore lead the way by doing away with this stifling rule.