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Policy Action and School Demand in Kenya

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image of International Journal of Comparative Sociology
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Comparative scholars are beginning to specify the conditions under which central states can act with independence vis-à-vis economic forces to penetrate local cultures and families, influencing parental demands placed on local institutions, such as demand for more schooling. Much less is known about (1) which specific forms of state action are efficacious in manipulating family demands, (2) whether boosting demand for more services can undercut their quality, and (3) why central political capacity to shape family action varies and may erode over time. To inform these issues we focus on two distinct periods in Kenya, stretching over the 1963-1990 post-independence era. We show, using time-series analysis, how the Kenyan regime initially boosted family demand for more schooling through discrete policy initiatives: reducing the private cost of school attendance, offering food supplements at school, and broadening secondary school opportunities for peripheral ethnic and class groups. But after two decades of efficacious state action, local demand for schooling began to falter, quality eroded severely, and stratification has again hardened. After identifying the early effects of these policies we detail how the Kenyan state has grown more fragile, less effective in shaping family demands and delivering quality education against the backdrop of a declining economy. The case of Kenya reveals weaknesses in Western sociological theories that fail to recognize domestic political and organizational constraints besetting centralized Third-World states, even those once considered strong.

Affiliations: 1: African Studies Program, Indiana University, Woodburn Hall 221, Bloomington, IN 47405; 2: Graduate School of Education, Harvard University, Gutman Library 450, Cambridge, MA 02138


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