The 2012 taskforce report on the re-alignment of the education sector to the Constitution identified various challenges and gaps in the Kenyan system and raised a pertinent question; “Is the education system and its institutions and programmes fit for purpose?’’
This question will remain relevant as long as the performance of students in the national examinations remains below average even with continued government funding.
The government supports the education sector through free primary education and subsidised secondary education. This has given poor children a chance to go to school.
The gross enrolment rates in primary schools have been sustained to above 100 per cent, while the net enrolment rates has risen to almost 90 per cent in the recent past.
The number of children completing Class 8 has risen to over 800,000. However, the 2012 Economic Survey shows that approximately 30 per cent of primary school pupils fail to transit to secondary schools because secondary schooling as part of basic education is yet to be actualised. Its implementation would mean automatic progression.
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This affects transition. About 250,000 Kenya Certificate of Primary Education (KCPE) exam candidates miss secondary school slots annually.
Yet, the Kenya Vision 2030 is looking upon the education sector to deliver the necessary skills and build adequate human capital to achieve and sustain the country as a middle-income country.
The 70 per cent who proceed to secondary education fail massively. On average, 60 per cent (approximately 200,000 students) of those sitting the Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education (KCSE) examinations end up scoring below 49 per cent ( C-). This reduces their chance of getting a vacancy in higher education.
From the KCPE dropouts and KCSE failures, it implies that about 450,000 unemployable children drop out of the school system.
Research from the Kenya Institute for Public Policy Research and Analysis (Kippra) shows that the survival rate from Class One to Form Four is below 20 per cent, while those who survive from Class One to university is 1.69 per cent.
This means few children attain tertiary education where skills are developed, despite the huge resources spent on education.
This is backed by the fact that the average years of schooling in Kenya is currently 8.4 years, a very limited time to enable a child acquire adequate skills for economic growth and development. Thus, a significant number of Kenyans have skill deficit because eight years of education is inadequate.
While the gains made in the education system have increased transition rates, the KCSE scores paint a grim picture. The system has been overly academic, with emphasis on examinations rather than skills development.
For instance, whereas agriculture is appreciated as the mainstay of Kenya’s economy and contributes more than 24 per cent to the GDP annually, the subject is not compulsory in schools.
Yet, most of the youth who drop out of the formal education system find themselves under-employed despite the many opportunities in the sector.
The education system should equip everyone in Kenya with agricultural and other necessary skills that would transform the sector and boost food production.
The sentiments are that the education system may not be fit for purpose, owing to trends in students’ dismal performance in national examinations.
An analysis of the performance in KCSE examinations depicts a worrying trend evidenced by the poor examination results for the last six years.
Since 2006, over 70 per cent (about 290,000 in 2011) of those who sit for KCSE did not attain C+, the average grade for transiting to university. More so, about 60 per cent of the students were unable to attain 50 per cent of the marks.
In 2006, 61 per cent of the students scored less than 49 per cent of the marks (C- and below) and 59 per cent (240,000) in 2011. Majority of the students scored D+ and below, having 44 per cent (182,218) in 2011. This in developed countries would be mass failure, requiring immediate intervention.
The above scenario implies that for every 20 students who sit for KCSE, nine of them obtain D and E grades. This lot ends up in the informal sector, where there is limited innovation, low wages, among other challenges.
Anecdotal evidence indicate that the matatu menace and road accidents problems emanate from our low quality education outputs as most of the drivers and conductors are likely to be the school dropouts. The blame should not be on the victims (i.e. the drivers and conductors) who are products of the low-quality education system. The lucky ones attend day secondary schools.
Noteworthy is that 50 per cent of public secondary schools are day schools, which most children from poor households attend, as they benefit from the free day secondary education.
However, day schools are characterised by lack of adequate facilities such as classrooms, textbooks and basic stationery owing to inadequate money.
Each pupil is allocated Sh2,185 for text and writing books per year, yet they are expected to perform as well as their counterparts in provincial and national schools. Secondary education is very important for a country’s growth and development.
African countries may have failed to recognise that as countries advance in technology and development, demand for manual labour declines and that for complex communication and advanced analytical skills increases.
A 2011 Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) report shows that there is a correlation between the highest level of education attained in a country and its growth. For instance, upper secondary education has become the norm in almost all the OECD countries, particularly in Korea, Italy, Spain, Chile, Greece and Ireland.
In OECD countries, more than 60 per cent of the population aged 25-64 has completed at least upper secondary education. Canada, USA, Germany, Norway and Czech Republic have over 80 per cent of the 25-64 years old, who have completed at least upper secondary education.
Majority of the unemployed people in Kenya have primary or no education. The 2009 Kenya population census shows that approximately 10 per cent of the youth have never attended any form of school and another 65 per cent have incomplete secondary education. With such trends, getting youths with the right skills to achieve the Vision 2030 is difficult.
Completing upper secondary education is the norm in most OECD countries. However, in African countries, it seems to be the exception. In Kenya, those who do not make it to secondary schools continue to add to the manual labour, whose relevance is declining as the country moves towards being a middle-income country.
With the current performance, the vision of the education service provision to have a globally competitive quality education, training and research for Kenya’s sustainable development may not be achieved.
The consequences of not addressing mass failure in public examinations may have long run and detrimental effects to the society and economy, particularly for inadequacies of meeting labour market demands, which have an impact on Kenya’s productivity.
As a country, we run the grave risk of not achieving Vision 2030 since education is the key social pillar of the vision.
Kenya’s secondary school curricula is end-product driven that is examinations rather than content-driven. The curriculum does not take cognisance of irregular attendance, high rates of repetition and dropouts.
The curriculum relies on textbooks and other curricular materials that are unaffordable, widely unavailable and in short supply. This is what is affecting the quality of education in Kenya.
Mr Muthaka is a policy analyst and Ms Wangombe is a research assistant at Kippra. The views in this article reflect those of the authors and not necessarily those of Kippra.