By: Anni Beukes, Mara Forbes and Kilion Nyambuga
More often than not, slum children of all ages have limited or no access to formal public schools within their settlements. Data collected by SDI, a network of community-based organisations of the urban poor in 32 countries across Africa, Asia and Latin America, from 1,000 slums in Africa, show that both the quality of instruction, as well as education facilities available to slum children is poor or of inferior quality. Classrooms are overcrowded and there is not much in the way of sports facilities, libraries or other recreational facilities. This is a challenge beyond the delivery of education. It is an interlinked development and governance challenge that requires planning, political and socio-economic engagement. Education must be integrated into urban planning to create sustainable cities.
When women in the savings groups of the SDI federations are asked what they are saving for overwhelmingly the response is: “for my children’s school fees and uniforms”. For example, Margaret lives in Dworzack, one of the 62 slum communities identified by the federation in Freetown. She is a member of the one of the federation savings group and has just withdrawn 700 000 Leones (USD 124) from her 2 million Leones (USD 354) federation savings account, to pay her children’s school fees for the new term. Margaret has no security of tenure, yet almost half of the money that she saves annually goes towards keeping her children in school. In 41 of the 229 slum settlements profiled in Kenya (Nairobi, Nakuru, Makueni, Machakos and Kisumu) the presence of schools or other educational institutions were indicated as a primary landmark to locate the settlement. Moving to already overcrowded slum settlements located near public schools is a strategy employed by many urban poor parents to secure access to education for their children. However, doing so may also come with a host of other insecurities.
For young children in Hazina Village in Nairobi, Kenya, there is a primary school within their settlement. Yet, according to the community, “the quality of education is very low due to disturbance by neighbours of the school”. Residents describe “robbery with violence, house breaking, snatching, rape and domestic violence”, as almost everyday occurrences. The men in this settlement mostly work in construction, when work is available, and the women support their families by doing laundry for more affluent families in and around the settlement.
Malaria, typhoid and amoebas are prevalent diseases due to inadequate access to safe water, sanitation and waste management. Water is rarely available and controlled by individual owners who rarely repair the pipes after they burst. Further, Hazina Village has its fair share of flying toilets (plastic bags used as a simple collection device for human feces), which leaves residents concerned about the hygienic conditions of the water available. How then may we imagine an 8-year old child to navigate all this as she starts to make her way through primary school?
In almost all of SDI’s profiled slums, parents called for either government or NGO’s to invest in education facilities for their children. They asked not only for adequate, but also affordable education. From Freetown to Nairobi and further afield, slum parents often make huge investments and sacrifices for the education of their children. This is despite and very much in the face of, their everyday lives and living in urban poor communities. They appreciate the social and economic chances a good education may give their children.
Education is key to social inclusion in cities. The recently adopted New Urban Agenda “support[s] the development of housing policies that foster local integrated housing approaches by addressing the strong links between education, employment, housing, and health, preventing exclusion and segregation.” It recognises the provision of equal access for all to physical and social infrastructure, including education and basic services, as key to leaving no one behind. Yet, if we are to accomplish the goals of the New Urban Agenda we need to recognize that the adequate enabling environment for education in slums and communities of the urban poor is an encompassing challenge. A fair chance for the empowerment of slum children starts with a safe and secure home. And a decent education.