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Struggles for education: balancing hope and hardship in Kibra



Pleading with teachers to allow school-going children into classes has become a distressingly common occurrence in Kibra, where many families grapple with balancing between feeding children and meeting their educational needs.

The high cost of living has affected all Kenyans, but it weighs heavily on parents residing in the informal settlements, leaving them desperate for assistance.

As prices soar, the expenses related to educational items have risen sharply, rendering basic educational necessities unaffordable to many parents.

A common phrase, “Education is the key to success,” is often used by parents to motivate their children to attend school. However, being raised in informal settlements presents a significant challenge for both children and parents.

Kibra, situated in Kenya’s capital, stands as one of Africa’s largest informal settlements, housing over 200,000 people in makeshift, muddy dwellings.

Data from the United Nations indicates that Kibra’s residents live on less than a dollar a day.

Most parents in these conditions rely on precarious, chance-based labor for their livelihoods. As circumstances become more challenging, parents struggle to provide for and educate their children.

Free Primary Education (FPE) was initiated in Kenya in January 2003 under the NARC government led by the late Honorable Mwai Kibaki,the third president of Kenya. This marked the second attempt to introduce such a policy in post-colonial Kenya, the first having failed in the 1970s.

However, despite the government deeming education to be free, many parents express different sentiments. They narrate instances where the high cost of living forces teachers to repeatedly send children back home due to unpaid fees for exams or remedial classes, as narrated by Samuel Ayieko.

“As a cobbler in Olympic, I find the cost of living incredibly high. Teachers often send my children back home because I struggle to afford fees for examinations and extra classes, creating a cycle of financial challenges.”

“Even though my children attend public school, there are times when it feels like they are in a private institution. When I can, I provide what little I have, but when I can’t, they have to stay home until I figure things out.”

Winfred Auma faces the same situation. I have four children—two in primary school and two in secondary education. Despite them attending public schools, the high cost of education often leaves me torn between providing for their basic needs and ensuring they receive a proper education. It’s a constant struggle to balance both aspects.


This financial cycle hampers their children’s education, often making it feel akin to attending a private school due to the financial pressure on parents.

While some areas of Kibra benefit from primary schools in their wards, residents of Lindi face a more distressing situation. Lindi lacks any public primary schools in its wards, with over 30 private primary schools compared to only about 5 public ones in Kibra.

Consequently, parents of younger children opt for private schools in Lindi due to proximity, while older children are compelled to travel further to access public schools in other wards.

Maureen Akello highlights the absurdity of a three-year-old commuting to Olympic for school, leading parents to opt for affordable private schools within Lindi despite financial constraints.

James Kitaka, a director of St. Juliet Education Centre, ascertains the school’s financial struggles are due to the economic challenges faced by Kibra’s parents. Despite being labeled private schools, these institutions barely generate enough funds, solely aiming to educate and empower children.

Ochieng Jera, Member of the County Assembly, Lindi ward, emphasizes that there is a lack of public facilities, including hospitals and schools, in his area of representation. He is addressing the issue through parliament, focusing on a grabbed piece of public land intended for a school.

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Charity Kilei
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