The Kenyan Education System: An Analysis

Like most developing countries, education system in Kenya faces many challenges. During the last four and a half decades of post independent evolution, it has attempted to solve the problem of matching its resources with responsibilities, and though not always successful, it can certainly claim to be moving in the right direction. More recently, it has taken practical steps to improve the vocational and technical education too.
The Kenyan Education System: An Analysis
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An Overview of Kenyan Education System

Since late 1980s, Kenya follows an 8:4:4 system of education, referring to the broad categorisation of educational levels and the years spent in it. It means 8 years to be spent in the primary school, 4 years in the secondary school and another 4 at the college / university level. This does not include the 'pre-primary' schooling provided to children under the age of six. Around 85% of all children enrol for primary education, about 25% attend secondary schools, while only 2% actually join the University.

The enrolment at the primary level has increased since the

parliament enacted the Children's bill in 2002, making primary education free since January 2003 and making it mandatory for parents to send their children to primary schools.

Since independence the financing of most schools was based on the Kenyan 'HARAMBEE' system that means "working together for a common purpose" and refers to the community self-help approach whereby community joins the Government in taking responsibility. Lately, the role of Government is rising, as evident from its increased involvement in pre-primary education since 1980s and even greater role in primary education since 2003. Now the Kenyan Government has introduced plans to make secondary education free.

Primary Education in Kenya

It starts at age of six years and consists of eight years of schooling, out of which first three may be in the mother tongue, while English is invariably the language of instruction from standards 4 to 8. Most schools are public and run on the basis of harambee system, but the number of private schools, though small as yet, is rising very fast. Most schools are co-ed though a few only-girls schools also exist. The primary education ends with an exam for Kenya Certificate of primary education.

Certain semiarid areas in Kenya like Maasai, Samburu, Turkana, and Somali, are inhabit by very poor nomadic people who wander around looking for pasture for their livestock. In these areas the school concept is different, and consists of mobile schools that move along with them on a camel's back. They provide education in a more informal way, with lesser dependence on text books or school infrastructure.

Enrolment levels in primary education are reasonable by third world standards - partly a result of the making it free. In fact, it boasts of the world's oldest primary school student in the form of 'Kimani Maruge' who joined it at the age of 84 years.

Secondary School in Kenya

Secondary school consists of four years. Majority of secondary schools are run on the Harambee system. About one fourth are Government schools, but only the most meritorious are able to enter them. The private schools charge high fees and many offer British O-levels, followed by A-levels or the International Baccalaureate. The enrolment in secondary school is far less compared to the primary school, as it is not free, though some plans to do that are being prepared.

University & College Education in Kenya

Since the establishment of University of Nairobi in 1970, the first public University in Kenya, four more general public Universities and three public Universities in science and technology have been established. In addition there are also 17 private Universities, most run by religious organizations. Only about 2% of children actually reach the Universities. One of the reasons is the outflow of students belonging to the higher socioeconomic strata, who often prefer foreign Universities, especially those in UK over those back home.

Vocational & Technical Education in Kenya

Several Kenyan colleges provide vocational and technical education, in the form

of certificate courses and diplomas, though some courses affiliated with Universities can offer degrees. Usually they are open for students who have completed secondary education, and offer training in business management, design, computers, media, accounting, nursing and other technical skills. To address the problems of inconsistency in standards and sub-standard education in some institutes, a law called ‘TVETA’ or Technical and Vocational  Education and Training Act was introduced in 2014, so as to standardise their standards. Journalistic reports have supported government claim of major improvements in the standard of training imparted by around 540 vocation colleges covered by this law.

Major Challenges in Education System in Kenya

The greatest challenge faced in the area of education ever since the independence of Kenya is to meet its goals within its meager resources. This was primarily the reason of adoption of the Harambee system for many social sectors including education. The word ‘harambee’ is derived from the calls of ‘har Ambe’ or  ‘hail the goddess Ambe’ which used to be frequently chanted by migrant Indian workers when a group of them carried out strenuous activities, as a means of ensuring proper coordination between all the labor involved. In time, it became the symbol of working together, and was adopted to denote a policy of cooperation between all. Thus most schools were run by local authorities, with contributions from Government, with fees being charged from students. As many poor families could not afford the fees, enrolment was low till 2003, when Government made it free and compulsory.

Critics of harambee system claim that the harambee system is not efficient, as it involves Government contribution on the basis of number of schools and number of teachers, leading to opening of more schools and appointment of more teachers, than is actually required, by the local communities or authorities. The people often are not benefitted as the fees are substantial.

Another major challenge that the educational policy makers in Kenya face today is to modernize itself to the needs of developing skills in Information technology. Computer education has been introduced in 1998, and though a lot of emphasis is being placed on it, the facilities are still far from enough and need to be expanded further.

One existing criticism of education system in Kenya is that it has not been able to discard its colonial roots and adopt itself to the actual needs of the people, a majority of whom are engaged in agriculture and other unorganized sectors, thereby rendering it less purposeful for them, a fact that might have contributed to poor enrolments.

The Epilogue

Like most other third world countries, Kenya also faces many challenges in achieving its educational goals within its financial constraints. Overseas assistance from Britain and agencies like USAID has helped but a lot needs to be done. Gradually, there is policy shift towards from harambee system to the full Government financing, but it is unlikely to become universal anywhere soon due to lack of resources. Yet, introduction of free and compulsory primary education has helped and it may accelerate enrolment in higher education in coming years.

Article Written By V Kumar

I am a freelance writer. I write for the passion of writing. Life has blessed me an opportunity to be a witness to many interesting aspects of life and people around the world. Indeed, these are very interesting times and we who live in this era are privileged to experience it. You can find my articles at

Last updated on 14-10-2017 306 0

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