Urban poverty is a reality in developing cities. In many cities, thousands of people live on a dollar a day. Alongside this lies a challenge faced by many governments and municipalities in providing quality education for the urban poor. Urban poor have to face the trouble of overcrowded primary schools, shortages of teachers, poor learning facilities and fewer options as they progress through the educational system. Even for those who make it past secondary school, a place in a tertiary institution may be a dream.
The informal sector has remained the key to survival for thousands of urbanites in developing countries. However, it is not as easy for them to set up, sustain and grow in this sector due to lack of training facilities and programmes.
The City of Nairobi is no stranger to this. In 2003 the Government of Kenya started a “free primary education for all” program. This allowed for children from lower income families to have access to free education in their community and helped schools accommodate the large numbers in spite of shortage of facilities, teachers and equipment. Time has come to pass and twelve years later, of the 1.4 million who initially enrolled, only 400,000 completed their secondary education this year. While only a small percentage of this 400,000 will be eventually be absorbed into universities and colleges, a majority, like many of the urban poor, will join those who dropped out of the system in the informal (light industries) and manufacturing sector.
A challenge lies ahead: lack of training facilities suitable for those in the informal and manufacturing sectors. Recently, a massive drive towards a robust “formal economy” and technical know-how, has seen institutions, like the Kenya Polytechnic converted into full fledged universities. There remain very few institutions offering technical skills suitable for the light industry and manufacturing sectors, like Nairobi Technical Institute, Railways Training Institute and Kenya Technical Teachers College.
To aide in this deficiency, The Eastlands College of Technology (ECT) is bridging this gap by not only offering much needed technical education like electronics and industrial maintenance, but also offering a dual based system that will see students spend half their time in class and the other half gaining practical experience. This system has worked at other institutions such as the Institute for Industrial Technology in Nigeria. If successful it is set to bring a revolution to the informal sector in Nairobi with the national drive towards increased industrialization and self employment.
ECT is run by a non-governmental organization, Educational Initiatives Trust, who have trained several small scale businessmen over the past decade via short programmes under the Informal Sector Business Institute. Therein lies the possibility of churning out thousands of well trained technicians, small scale business persons, and artisans who have technical and business skills specific to the informal sector. Though dependant on well wishers, corporate partners, and donors to fund and subsidize their projects, the short programmes offered over the past decade have shown plenty of first hand successes stories with people from the working classes of society including better savings, business expansions and improved productivity.
Education remains one of the key elements to eliminate global poverty. However, it ought to be practical and sustainable for the needs of the particular locality. Most educational systems prepare people for a university education or white collar jobs with little focus on the informal economy where the majority, in Nairobi, eventually find themselves.
Should governments be more involved in preparing citizens who will be involved in the informal sectors? Are there training programs offered in the city where you live? Share your city’s story in the comments below.
Credits: Images by Eastlands Centre. Data linked to sources.