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Education in Kenya

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Erlass Institute is publishing a series of articles about education around the world, to be made available every 3 days.  Each country featured in the article describes the challenges and opportunities to meet the demands of a fast-moving world.  In this article, Kenya faces certain challenges such as technology infrastructure and extra lessons to improve students’ academic performance.

Kenya is best known for its spectacular wildlife and Olympic marathon runners.   The country of east Africa comprises 50 million people and is currently under quarantine amid the coronavirus outbreak.  The government has slowly allowed restaurants to reopen, only under strict measures including social distancing of 1.5 meters for tables and appointed stewards to serve for customers.

All schools and universities remain closed since the quarantine took effect mid-March, and was scheduled to reopen after May 4, according to Education Cabinet Secretary George Magoha².   Schools would reopen June 6.

There are over 17 million children and youths in education and training programs in Kenya.  Private and public primary and secondary schools are filled with 13 million children.  Enrollment in public universities in 2018 was at 513,000.  The remainder are in early childhood education and non-university higher education institutions.  ³

Schools in Kenya start Term One in January to March (14 weeks), followed by half-term break mid-February.  April holidays only last 3 weeks. Term 2 begins in May, followed by half-term break for 4 days in June and ends in July (14 weeks).  Term 3 last 9 weeks from September to November without half-term break.  Schools are closed in April, August and December.

Education is free since 2003 in the public schools.  Secondary schools in Kenya include 3 categories: government-funded, Harambee and private.   Government-funded schools include national, provincial and district levels.  Harambee schools do not receive full government funding and private organizations or individuals run private schools.  After students take and successfully pass the primary school leaving exam, government-funded schools choose students through order of scores.

Students with the highest scores gain admission into national schools while those with average scores go to provincial and district schools. Harambee schools accept students with low scores. Students who fail their examinations pursue technical and vocational education. Vocational education is divided into technical secondary school (lasting 4 years) and apprenticeships solutions. Since 2010, technical secondary schools student can have access to university programs. A number of students also drop out of school by choice due to poor scores. The government introduced plans to offer free Secondary education in 2008 to all Kenyans.

The Kenyan government pays a grant of 12,870 Kenyan shilling (USD 120)  for every secondary school student.  Parents pay maximum fees of 9,374 Kenyan shilling (USD 87.44) for day schools and 53,553 Kenyan shilling (USD 500) for boarding schools.  The fees have often exceeded the capped fees.  Uniforms and school lunches cost 36,787 Kenyan shilling (USD 343) for every student.  The cost of supporting a high school student with school fees, uniform and school lunch would 100 billion Kenyan shilling (USD 933 million) twice the national budget.

Primary education lasts for 8 years for children aged 6-14.  Starting school depends on the family’s financial background and some children start school later, at the age of 7, 8 or 9 and leave school at a later age.  Children are taught 5 subjects including English, the local language Swahili, math, science and social studies.  They take exams on all 5 subjects with a maximum score of 100 points and they must reach a minimum of points in each subject (a total of 250 points) to enter the next grade.  If children reach a lower score, they may take extra lessons to improve scores.  Then they may continue schooling although their total score is under 250.    Successful completion of the Kenya Certificate of Primary Education (KCPE) is necessary to continue to secondary school.

Students continue their education at secondary school for 4 years from the age of 14-18.  Each year of secondary school is known as Form 1, Form 2, Form 3, Form 4.  In Form 1 and 2 they learn 10 subjects: English, Swahili, religious studies, history, geography, mathematics, physics, chemistry, biology, business studies.  In form 3 and 4 they learn 8 subjects including mandatory English, Swahili and math.  This is followed with choosing 2 out of 3 science subjects such as physics, chemistry, biology; choosing 2 out of 3 social science subjects such as religious studies, history, geography and choose one of the business studies subjects such as business and agriculture.

In every trimester there are several “Continuous assessment test” (CAT) exams and a final exam, with the results submitted in the final report.    CAT 1 is taken at the first week after the holidays to assess how much the students forgot during the holiday.  CAT2 is taken around the 5th week of the term to test if students need extra lessons on specific subjects.  The final exam is at the end of the term and determines if the student can continue to the next form.

Each test of the subjects has a 100 points and students need to achieve at least 50% to go to the next form.  As there are 10 subjects in Form 1 and 2, the maximum score is 1000 points and students need to achieve a minimum score of 500 points (in all subjects with 50 points each.)      There are 8 subjects in Form 3 and 4 with a maximum total score of 800 and students need to reach the minimum score of 400 in all subjects to continue to the next form.  Secondary school students take the Kenya Certificate Secondary Education (KCSE) at the end of form 4.  The test results determine the higher education institute such as university, college, vocational school, for the student.

Digital learning has been proposed but this is further complicated with poor planning of technology infrastructure and no access to electricity and Internet in Kenya’s rural areas.  Students in those areas have to download notes and assignments from a cyber café, adding further costs and efforts to learning.  Students in the cities have a better chance to complete their studies.

Although schools remain closed, the government has not postponed national exams Kenya Certificate of Primary Education (KCPE) and the Kenya Certificate Secondary Education (KCSE), both to be held in November 2020 at separate dates.  Magoha stated that the exams would only feature questions drawn from parts of the curriculum covered by learners before the Covid-19 disruption.

The Ministry of Education faces various challenges as a result of extending the closure of schools.  Students face the threat of teenage pregnancies, early marriages, child labor and school dropouts.  Students from the most vulnerable and marginalized background with limited access to education suffer heavily from the closed schools.  Teenage girls are at risk from domestic or gender-based violence when they are not at school.  Students may have to repeat their classes.

Parents and schools face the additional challenge of affordable school books for students.  . A survey of 22 countries in Africa  found that in 2010, the "median country" had 1.4 students per textbook in both reading and math in primary education. In Kenya, the average number of textbooks per student was 3.1 according to the Service Delivery Indicators survey of 2013. There was also a large variation in the indicator. In only 10% of the schools, students did not have to share textbooks. At the other extreme, roughly 5% of schools had less than one textbook for five students. 

Kenya has faced the challenge of Making affordable textbooks available to every child in school.  The government and the World Bank worked together to undertake the Secondary Education Quality Improvement Project.  The project aimed to reduce the cost of textbooks for students in primary school.  Funding of USD 13 million was invested in the project which tackled distribution costs by 65% and the Kenyan government saved USD 138 million.  In 2017, every student in grade 9 received a free textbook and the project was enthusiastically welcomed by the students, parents, teachrs, school management boards and government officials.

Kenya Institute of Curricula Development (KICD) started to ask publishers to offer textbook content for each subject in every grade for review.  Cost, quality of paper and printing were taken into consideration and KCID shortlisted 6 titles for each subject for each grade and finally placed in a government-approved catalogue known as “Orange Book.”  The lowest priced book would be the core textbook while other bids within 20% of the lowest priced book would be in the “Orange Book.”  There were criteria of paper, printing and binding.

The World Bank worked with the local team to address printing large volumes of books in a short time through guidance on procurement process, import quality paper for the publishers, recruiting and training skilled managers and outsourcing some of the printing to meet Kenya’s demand and quality standards.  The process helped the Kenyan government expand the process to all textbooks, all subjects and all grades from preschool to grade 12.

Schools face job losses from non-teaching and contract staff.  There are fears of potential discrimination and stigmatization of students who may be infected by the coronavirus or affected by the pandemic.  However, students remain optimistic about their schooling despite the uncertainty they face.



¹ Restaurants Set to Re-Open in Kenya Under Strict Measures Amid COVID-19 Fears:

² School closure extended by a month, Gvt has not decided to postpone exams:

Where Kenya is spending money on education – and what’s missing:


Kenya's digital gap widens as Covid-19 penalises students without internet

Magoha Issues New Directive on Schools Re-Opening Amid Covid-19 [VIDEO]

Making textbooks affordable and available for every student in Kenya :



Fast facts : Kenya

  • Name: Republic of Kenya.  Kenya's name come from Mount Kenya.
  • Population: about 50 million people live in Kenya (2020)
  • Capital city: Nairobi with 4.5 million people
  • Kenya borders five countries: Tanzania, Ethiopia, South Sudan, Uganda and Somalia. The longest border is shared with Ethiopia (867km).
  • Kenya gained independence from Britain in 1963.
  • Languages: 2 official languages: Kiswahili (also referred to as Swahili) and English
  • Religion: mainly Christians (83%), Muslims (mainly living in the coastal regions), Hindu, Jews and other faiths
  • Currency: 1 Kenyan Shilling (KES) = 100 Cents
  • History: Kenya became independent in 1963.
  • National Animal: lion
  • National Colors: black, red, green and white
  • National DayJamhuri Day 12 December (Independence Day)