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'Non-Formal' Schools Aim to Fill Need in Kenya's Slums

In Nairobi, because of limited space in public schools, children sometimes learn from untrained teachers with few resources. Transcript of radio broadcast:

This is the VOA Special English Development Report.

In two thousand three, the government of Kenya established a program of free primary education for all children. But there are not enough public schools for all the children who live in the crowded slums of Nairobi.

Instead, some of these children attend what are known as non-formal or informal schools. These are supported by communities, religious groups and other organizations.

Informal schools use the national curriculum taught in public schools. But they operate largely with limited resources and without trained teachers. Education activists say the Ministry of Education rarely inspects their teaching quality, lesson notes or examination records.

They say the presence of informal schools means that Kenya has two levels of education: One for children from the slums, another for children from better conditions.

Activists say Kenya has at least one thousand six hundred of these non-formal schools. Susan Munuhe is an Education Ministry official. She says only about two hundred informal schools across the country receive money for materials under the free primary education program.

She says one slum in Nairobi, Mathari, has only about three public primary schools nearby. These can serve two thousand children at most. But she says the Mathari slum alone has more than three hundred thousand children of school age.

Diana Atieno Tujuh volunteers as a teacher at the Saint Christine's Community Center in the Kibera slum, one of the largest in Africa. She says the government has provided books for her school only one time during the past few years. Many parents do not have the money to buy books, so sometimes the teachers pay for them.

She says many students are sleepy and unable to pay attention in class because there is not enough food for them at home. For the children at Saint Christine's, the mid-day meal they are served might be their only meal all day.

A government spokesman says the government is trying to discourage informal schools. Alfred Mutua says every child in Kenya has the ability to get the same education. The government, he says, has never rejected a child from a public school. He also says the government is building more schools, but it will take time.

And that's the VOA Special English Development Report, written by Jerilyn Watson with Cathy Majtenyi in Nairobi. Transcripts and podcasts of our reports are at I'm Steve Ember.