County unveils education airlift initiative
It is reminiscent of the famous education airlift program organized by legendary post-independence politician Tom Mboya, through which hundreds of Kenyan students were flown to the US to study at various universities.
Among the beneficiaries of the project was none other than President Barak Obama’s father, Obama Snr.
Kwale County has borrowed a leaf through the unveiling of a similar program with the first group of beneficiaries – 68 students – set to leave the country later this month, not for the US this time, but for India for higher education.
Unlike the donor-funded US airlift, the students will be sponsored through tax-payers’ courtesy of the Kwale county government to pursue university education in the Asian country.
The County will help the students through its bursary fund, which was allocated Shs.220million in this year’s budget.
Addressing the students at the Kwale Cultural Centre, County Executive for Education, Mangale Munga, said the scholarship program alone will cost the county Shs. 53million.
However, there have been some hiccups which delayed the implementation of the program arising from a standoff between the County Assembly members who mooted the idea after visiting India and Executive almost year ago.
The disagreement led to the postponement of the students’ departure which would have taken place long ago with the MCAs accusing the Executive of frustrating the program.
The MCAs led by the chairman of the Committee on Education, Antony Yama had accused Executive of dragging its feet on the implementation of the project meant to benefit students from each of the County’s 20 wards.
But now there is some light at end of the tunnel, following the formation of a technical committee comprising representatives from the two arms of the government to fast-track its implementation.
This came after the Governor Salim Mvurya met the MCAs at a hotel in Tiwi last week where he dismissed as baseless and misleading claims that the executive was opposed to the initiative saying education was top in his government’s development priorities.
“The scholarship program is still on course only that there are some outstanding issues which the committee will address to ensure its smooth implementation”, he said.
He said his government was fully committed to the initiative but comprehensive consultations and preparations were in order to ensure it is executed successfully.
The Governor noted that it was the first time the county was handling international scholarships an undertaking that was bound to have its own unique challenges which must be addressed accordingly.
According to Munga, the county government has set stiff requirements for the beneficiaries to ensure the courses they select are relevant to the urgent needs of the county.
He said the students will be required to study popular courses like law, medicine, engineering and ICT that will be of benefit to the county that has a huge shortage of trained manpower.
“We did a training need assessment for the county and found that it is in dire need of professionals in these specialized fields”, he said.
Munga said fees would strictly be paid for students who will meet the requirements as only the recommended courses will make them marketable after their studies.
He further warned that the county government will not waste public funds on courses that are not of much value.
The executive told the students to uphold discipline and to study hard while abroad warning that improper conduct and poor performance will lead to withdrawal of support.
“We expect you to earn good grades otherwise you risk having the sponsorship discontinued”, Munga told the students.
At least 100 students were initially expected to benefit from the program, but following delays by the Executive, some of them were forced to abandon it in order to join local public universities.
The county has been posting dismal results in national exams and only a few local students have been qualifying for higher education.
Mvurya said his government is committed to improving education standards in the county by all means necessary.
He has declared an all-out war on illiteracy as money allocated for bursaries has more than doubled in this year’s budget.
Mvurya said it is worrying that over 70% the county’s population live below the poverty line and hence cannot afford to meet the cost of their children’s education.
“The decision to allocate the bursary kitty is informed by the soaring demand for assistance in fee payment. We want to ensure all bright but needy students go to school as education is one of the key pillars of the local economy,” he said.
Last year, over 12,000 children benefitted from the bursaries, a figure that is expected to go up this year.
The bursary fund will enable the county to develop its human resource base which is crucial to the county’s economic development, according to the Governor.
“The rising poverty can partly be attributed to widespread illiteracy and that is why we have decided to prioritize education to unlock the county’s development potential”, says Mvurya.
Residents interviewed hoped the processing of the bursaries will be streamlined to ensure prompt disbursement of the cash.
By James Muchai