Nairobi and Olympic primary schools were forces to reckon with in their heyday, always outperforming many private schools in national examinations.
Their stature has, however, waned steadily since introduction of free primary education in 2003, leaving them and many other former public school giants as pale shadows of their past.
The introduction of free primary education was hailed globally as a firm step in the right direction, but initial fears of infrastructure inadequacies are manifesting now.
Chronic congestion, shortage of teachers and funding inadequacies have characterised free primary education, gradually sucking the life out of them.
The statistics from this year’s Kenya Certificate of Primary Education (KCPE) exam paint a clear picture of the worrying situation. Only seven public schools made it to the list of the best 100 schools in the exam.
The list was dominated by private schools, which have steadily overshadowed their public counterparts by maintaining smaller classes and healthier teacher-to-student ratios.
The Ministry of Education estimates that public schools require up to 80,000 more teachers to cover the current shortfall. The situation needs to be addressed urgently before it gets out of hand.
Education is often said to be the fastest route up the social ladder, and therefore deterioration of the public school system is a sure way of entrenching perilous inequalities in society.
The introduction of free secondary school education is only set to disadvantage the poor even more, as the good schools are likely to burst in the with over-enrolment.
What makes it even more worrying is that access to higher education is becoming increasingly harder for the poor, who in recent years have had to cope with irregular disbursements of the Higher Education Loans Board funding.
The government must move with speed to nip the unfolding disaster in the bud.
There are no better numbers to build the case for better equipping of public schools than the 2017 KCPE exam performance. The reality is that facilities in public schools need to be expanded, and the hiring of teachers must be expedited.
If let un-addressed, the much touted free education could create an even worse social inequity than it was initially intended to cure.