A chance to SUCSEED: extending a lifeline to schools and pupils

17/08/2015

By Conrad Young

Vincent Ouma, like many 12-year-olds, loves football and dreams of being a pilot. He knows his ambitions can only be realised through education, and yet until recently, he was missing school for the first week of every month, because his parents had difficulty scraping together the fees.

Vincent’s family live in Mathare, a densely-packed district of Nairobi known as an informal settlement—usually referred to as a slum. Over 60% of Nairobi’s population of 3.36 million live in similar conditions. For many families, the cost of sending children to school is too great a burden and money that would be used for a child’s education is more readily spent on necessities such as food.

However, parents also know that education is their children’s best hope of a better life. The growing demand for schooling is being largely met by low-cost private institutions known as complementary schools. In informal settlements in Nairobi it’s estimated that well over half of all children attend such complementary schools.

The Department for International Development’s Supporting Complementary Schools for Equitable Education (SUCSEED) programme is providing fee funding, management training, and improvements in infrastructure in 399 complementary schools in Nairobi and Mombasa. The programme identified 25,000 children who were either out of school or at risk of leaving. It covers a large part of these children’s school fees, conditional on a consistent attendance record.

Ruth Anyango is Director of Shiners Education Centre in Mathare, where Vincent is one of nearly 300 pupils. Since the SUCSEED involvement began, she has seen an increase in the enrolment of over 150 children.

“The school has undergone tremendous improvement in all areas,” she says, pointing out rows of new desks, and the two new toilets (previously the school had none). Additionally, she has taken on four more teachers to add to the existing two.

Schools are able to use funds to stabilise operations and invest surpluses in improving physical infrastructure. Because head teachers are no longer forced to turn away pupils for non-payment, parents are more willing to engage in school management activities, and various cultural and social events. Shiners Education Centre has set up a Board of Management with training and mentorship from SUCSEED, and parents contributed to the purchase of bricks to build the school wall. At another nearby school, parents raised money to buy new lockers for the pupils.

An external evaluation of SUCSEED shows that children have maintained attendance rates of over 90% through the life of the programme. Given the vulnerable population that the programme is working with, this is a significant achievement.

But more notable results can be seen at the schools. There is a visible improvement in the capacity of these schools, evident in the progress they have made on management practices, financial record keeping, ability to hire and pay qualified teachers, and critical school infrastructure. This has translated into a large number of participating schools making steady progress towards meeting the Ministry of Education’s registration guidelines. Official recognition from the government is a key outcome for both financial sustainability, as well as regular curricular and instructional support from the government.

None of this matters to 12-year-old Vincent. He’s just happy that the lessons he loves can continue, without fear of being turned away at the school gate because of lack of fees.