Parents who fail to send their children to school will be jailed if a new Bill becomes law.
They will be fined Sh5,000 or a one-year jail term, the Bill proposes. Expulsion and being forced to repeat classes will also be outlawed.
Entry tests will be banned and no child will be denied admission to any public primary school of their choice for any reason.
However, a child who fails to cope with school life due to mental, physical or psychological reasons can be sent away with the permission of the Minister for Education, now re-designated Education Secretary.
But that child must be admitted to a correctional institution that will suit their needs. The Bill outlaws employing school-age children and protects them from torture.
“Any person who employs or prevents a child who is subject to compulsory attendance from attending school is guilty of an offence and is liable to a fine not exceeding five million shillings or to a period not exceeding five years in jail or to both,” says the Bill.
The Bill, published by Education minister Mutula Kilonzo, was prepared after a series of consultations.
First, the ministry set up an education taskforce under former Moi University Vice Chancellor, Prof Douglas Odhiambo, which prepared a report that was reviewed at a national stakeholders’ conference in Nairobi in March.
The report recommended a review of the existing Education Act 211 of 1970 (revised 1980). Simultaneously, the ministry has prepared a draft education policy to accompany the Bill.
But the Bill steers clear of the debate on the education system, only saying the Cabinet Secretary in consultation with stakeholders, would prescribe a structure from time to time to reflect the prevailing socio-economic needs.
“The system shall be so structured as to enable learners to access education and training at any level in a sequence, and at a pace that may be commensurate with the individual learners’ physical, mental, and intellectual abilities and the resources available,” it says.
Debate about the best system of education dominated the national conference, with teachers rejecting proposals that a 2-6-6-3 system replaces the current 8-4-4 curriculum.
The Bill sets up a new management structure for the education sector. It provides for national and county structures and spells out the role of the ministry at each level.
Among others, it proposes the creation of a national education board, which will advise the Cabinet Secretary on all policy matters.
Technically, the ministry will be headed by a director general, who will be deputised by directors managing various directorates. At present, the technical head is education secretary.
Schools and colleges will be managed by a board appointed competitively and in line with Article 10 on national values and principles of governance or Chapter Six of the Constitution on leadership.
Similarly, the Bill provides strict procedures for running private schools. All proprietors must conform to the laws on national values and leadership and integrity and each school must have a management board elected competitively.
The new law also proposes a commission for standards and quality assurance to take charge of inspection and monitoring of learning in schools.
Currently, this role is performed by the directorate of quality assurance and standards, which has been faulted for being ineffective as it lacks resources and independence to carry out its mandate.
Mr Kilonzo says the new laws seek to protect children’s rights to free education, enhance access to training opportunities and promote accountability.