Education in Kenya

State v. private in Kenya

Tony Blair, on a visit to Kenya praised the Kenyan Government for its new policy of offering free and compulsory primary education to all children. America and Britain pumps in many millions yearly in support.

But, take a look beneath the surface and many Kenyans would say that the picture is less than rosy and that the state education system is in crisis. The education budget can’t cope with the rush to claim free schooling which has resulted in classes bursting at the seams. Some say that class sizes of 80 plus are not unusual. Teachers report that books are often shared between eight children.

In Britain only the rich pay for education but in Kenya there have long been numerous  private schools tucked away in rural areas and even in the Nairobi slums. Now even the poor are demanding low cost private schooling, making sacrifices to pay the fees believing their children will get a better education. Fees vary but can be very low compared with UK rates. Where parents are struggling to find the fees, the head teacher in conjunction with a supportive parent teacher association will often try to find sponsors to keep a child at school.

Actually, the cost of a private school and a ‘free’ government school is almost the same. In a government school, you usually have to pay for water, books, extra tuition, the school cook and even for a desk. Until recently, the government had been supplying beans and maize to the school, but even that has now been withdrawn. A typical rural private school will charge around £62 per term whereas a government schools will charge around £42.

The system

Schools follow a 8-4-4 system, with 8 years of primary school until age 13. In practice, few rural children know their exact age and many start school late. It is not unusual to have a 19 year old children in class 8 finishing their primary education. Some people in their 70s have started school, claiming their free school place. Children (and some adults) hope to leave primary school with a KCPE (Kenya Certificate of Primary Education.)


4 years, age 14-18
A good grade at KPEC will secure a place at one of the prestigious National government boarding schools. Lower grades will go to a Provincial or District school. Nearly all secondary schools are boarding schools. School finishes with exams for the Kenyan Certificate of Secondary Education at age 18/19 (or later if school years are missed)

Some children, where it exists, go to a village polytechnic for a diploma in practical subjects.

Boarding is very common, even at primary level because of the huge distance many children have to travel, often walking miles to school. It has certain advantages – pupils are less likely to be taken out of school to help at home and girls are safe from early marriage, sometimes as young as 9.

Attitude to education

A good education is valued by Kenyan families and children alike. Self reliance is considered essential in a country with little to no state welfare system so it is seen as a way out of poverty.

The Maasai previously have been resistant to education but increasing fencing of land has disrupted their nomadic way of life forcing them to put down roots. Recent droughts, year on year, have caused them to discuss climate change and a possible threat to their present way of life. They are now starting to embrace education.

For further reading see here by professor Toomley
see here by the BBC news
see here by wikipedia

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