Educational Challenges in the Republic of Kenya
Kenya’s educational development has been impacted by numerous factors, such as being a colony of the British Empire from 1895 until 1963 and becoming a Republic in 1964[i]. Kenya currently has a population of 53.77 million people who speak a total of 42 ethnic languages[ii]. There are various national authorities for education, such as the National Council for Nomadic Education in Kenya, the Commission for University Education, the Teachers’ Service Commission (TSC), and the Kenya National Examination Council (KNEC);[iii] as well as international influence for quality education, especially the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).[iv] All these contributed to the development of a system that promotes access, quality, and attainable standards, enshrining the right to education in the constitutional revision of 2010 and through the Basic Education Act of 2013.[v] However, this progress may be outweighed by negative results, leading to general issues we see globally but also issues specific to the Kenyan context with regards to indigenous communities, education agencies, and the teacher training of educators.
General Educational Challenges
In 2020 there were 18 million students in Kenya, 15 million in primary and secondary schools, following a format known as the ‘8-4-4’ system of eight years in primary, four years in secondary, and another four in post-secondary education as a result of policies that sought to fulfil the MDG of universal primary education, quality education for all (EFA). The current government policy aimed at a 100% student transition from primary to secondary education helped to increase this ratio from 83% in 2018 to 95% in 2020, dedicating 95.7% of total expenditure to enhance public primary education.[vi] The government and private sector also came together to adopt joint funding mechanisms to provide both basic education but also eradicate poverty, allowing for tuition fees to be waived for primary education first, but gradually doing so for public day secondary education too, despite the fact that parents continue to pay for uniforms, meals, transport, and learning materials.[vii]
The digital media organization Tafuta Kenya refers to the Kenyan education system as a ‘state of crisis’ because of issues like gender disparity for girls in education due to traditional, cultural beliefs in 23 counties; the high drop-out rates due to poverty, child labour, drugs, poor health; inadequate facilities such as not having enough public schools, desks, chairs, textbooks; the high rate of absenteeism of educators in classrooms partially tied to frequent strikes for better working conditions and salaries; and the persistent trend of political influence that leads to corrupt embezzlement of funds that disrupts resource allocation and planning.[viii] More than 1.2 million children of primary age are not enrolled in primary school, with orphans especially vulnerable in this respect, and that only roughly 1% of Kenyan youth are in university because of the high tuition fees and the lack of access to youths from lower socio-economic backgrounds, leaving those aged between 15-24 years old the largest age group in terms of unemployment rates.[ix]Photo by Doug Linstedt on Unsplash
The main reason for these issues is that poverty remains rife in Kenya, with the World Poverty Clock estimating that 11 million Kenyans live on less than $1.90 per day, worsening the issue of hunger as one in every four children experiences stunting as a result of homes not having enough food to feed their children who are at risk of having undeveloped brains.[x] A 2014 study by the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) concluded that the level of education held by parents is a firm indication of the level of the poverty that children may face which hinders their access to education and increases socio-economic disparities.[xi] In a similar vein, a 2019 study by Abuya et al. concluded that children from single parent households were less likely to be in primary education at the right age in comparison to children living in two-parent households, standing at 66% and 74% respectively, and that children living with guardians were 23% less likely to be in the primary education at the right age, with the data based on gender, educational attainment, household income, the number of siblings, and the educational institution, to display the impact of socio-economic resources being available to invest in children’s education.[xii]
These issues directly challenge the ‘Vision 2030’ national development plan of Kenya, whose budget increased by 50% to make education competitive with other systems globally and raise the quality of life. However, it resulted in bad planning because millions of students who dropped out in the past due to poverty returned which led to overcrowded classrooms, leaving teachers overwhelmed with the task of handling sometimes three classrooms with their respective behavioural challenges.[xiii] With over eight million students being accommodated by 216,517 teachers in primary schools, the average of 50 students per teacher in Nairobi, 92 students per teacher in Turkana, and 200 students per classroom in Kibera Olympic School is evidence that the system is pressured.[xiv]
In this situation, girls remain vulnerable since they continue to face ‘archaic’ traditions and parents who fear that sending their daughters to school would be a waste of resources, seeing them better fit to handle chores, care for their siblings, and travel long distances for water. Girls are also often forced into early marriages and pregnancies in exchange for economic and social benefits, remaining 2.5 times more likely to face gender-based violence (GBV) given Kenya’s recent history of internal and transboundary conflict.[xv] The activities of Flying Kites, an organisation focused on improving education by meeting the needs of individual students, has expressed the importance of investing in girls not only for gender equity, but also because girls can be seen as agents of change and boosting their access to Guidance, Information, Resources, Leadership, and Skills (G.I.R.L.S.).[xvi] One priority is sanitation standards which results in some girls leaving education because they cannot afford sanitary pads, wherein one in every ten 15-year-old girls do not have such access and would resort to engaging in sexual activities to get money for such products, leading to more early pregnancies and less time to focus on education.[xvii]
The outbreak of COVID-19 negatively impacted the past and current education policies, highlighting the lack of prepared plans to tackle the shift to remote, distance, and online alternatives of learning. It is noteworthy that Kenya’s Ministry of Education (MoE) had launched a disaster management policy in July 2018 but only addressed the effects of heavy rains, wildfires, and promoting peace and safety but did not expand the aim of common safety guidelines to prevent the disruption of education as a result of diseases, especially considering the past outbreaks of malaria, HIV/AIDS, Ebola, and Zika across Africa.[xviii] Instead, the pandemic highlighted the inadequate ICT infrastructure given the fact that the government leaned on broadcasting education when only 17% of Kenya has access to broadband and students living in rural regions did not own digital devices; only 42% of children had access to a television and 19% to a radio, resulting in a higher rate of child labour since 16% and 8% of girls and boys respectively did not return to education when schools reopened on 4th January 2021; put at risk 150,000 refugee students who were confined in a so-called home when schools closed on 15th March 2020; and increased poverty since children lost access to school meals, and increased the rates of GBV, early marriages and pregnancies for girls.[xix] This was also reflected in the lack of digital and e-learning skills that teachers held, leading to a lack of preparation to shift to remote learning and aiding students to engage as e-learners, losing the crucial teacher-learner connection that ensures a steady transfer of knowledge.[xx]
Lack of Educational Planning & Low Educator Qualifications
There is a clear mismatch of resources to meet the needs of education for students which require proper education planning policies that implement logical mechanisms that set goals according to needs by systematically, strategically, and optimally utilizing the limited number of resources for an efficient system.[xxi] But without qualified planners, statisticians, analysts, the right tools such as computers and calculating machines, and accurate data, the system buckles under issues that hinder developing a system that safeguards against future problems, especially given the political instability that underlies the system as different political beliefs disrupt a consistent and coherent flow of government activities.[xxii] Furthermore, planners need to expand teachers’ salaries and promotion tracks, issues that result in teachers taking on other jobs to make ends meet which increases teacher absenteeism.[xxiii]
The system must be buttressed by educators who are properly trained and qualified which are obligations that fall under the TSC as mandated by the constitution to register, recruit, assign, promote the transfer, exert discipline, review, and even terminate the employment of teachers within the education system, all the while maintaining a set of standards that teacher training is based upon.[xxiv] Therefore, the task of supplying and maintaining teachers must retain transformational, holistic, creative, yet professional mindsets which Jonyo & Jonyo (2017) have argued has failed to address that teachers are understaffed, digitally illiterate, are not monitored and evaluated according to set standards, aim for low targets with an inadequate infrastructure, and through unionisation resist the development of the 2015 Teacher Performance Appraisal and Development that seeks to strengthen the status of the teacher as a leader of curriculum implementation but instead is feared as a ‘weeding’ exercise for incapable individuals.[xxv] Teacher training needs to change so that prior to entering a classroom, and also through professional development to attain new skills, they can fuse teaching the curriculum with an inflation of digital, automated capabilities that collect data to increase performance and service delivery, as well as expand the apprenticeship model established for junior teachers to train alongside senior teachers with leadership training so that they can manage in-class responsibilities whilst taking note of any changes that require teachers to adjust practices.[xxvi]
Tied to teacher training is amending pedagogical methods of teaching and students assessment which Akala (2021) has argued remains attached to the ‘recall of trivial information’ that is dense for students to remember through ‘rote learning’ by drilling information into memory to then be regurgitated in exams.[xxvii] What is instead being called for is to balance these methods with a competency based curriculum (CBC) whereby students are taught to attain:
‘sufficient practical skill and knowledge to perform the activity or service to a degree and quality that is acceptable to the industry and the customer in a time within which a competent person at the level could reasonably be expected to perform the task.’[xxviii]
CBC is arguably better than an examination-focused mode of teaching because it allows students to retain what they learned in a measurable way that empowers them beyond simply assessment and instead produces positive learning experiences of support and meeting their needs in education. This can help to reduce tension resulting from competitive academic performance that demands good grades to attain quality education and bars students from having the space to relax and develop social skills.[xxix]
Exclusion of Indigenous Culture & Language
Lastly, as a consequence of colonialism, Kenya continues to exclude indigenous languages and cultures from education, perpetuating a sense of ‘negative ethnicity’ that prioritises the content, teaching methods, and outcomes that remain inherently English- or Western-focused.[xxx] The 2019 study by Ng’asike observed this issue from the perspective of the Turkana community, showing how the community remained at a significant disadvantage of developing their learning and skills attainment capacities, especially in terms of language learning, arguing that there is ample evidence from other countries such as Mali, Burkina Faso, and South Africa of the benefits that result from the inclusion of students’ mother tongues, be it Kiswahili, Turkana or any of the other ethnic languages spoken outside school.[xxxi]
Instead, parents, agencies, and communities continue to see the practice of the mother tongue as ‘backward’ or ‘tribalism’ and including indigenous knowledge within educational settings risks students being placed at a disadvantage to learn English.[xxxii] Ng’asike (2019) explained the benefits of including mother tongues and indigenous knowledge in education. Students coming from these communities have already adopted ways of associating the world through their mother tongue and cultural practices which provides a foundation on which educators can create bridges of understanding that helps them to progress onto curricular topics and language learning further down the education system. The study also suggests the use of story books in English, Kiswahili and the mother tongue as a primary tool in the early stages of education which would allow students, parents and the wider community to engage in storytelling, increase student and adult literacy, and alternative, supplementary materials that depart from the rigidity of what is considered important in the curricula or materials that ‘become vehicles of passive transmission of Western values.’[xxxiii]
It is evident that Kenyan education faces many challenges that spill over into socio-economic, political, and cultural issues. However, the system is willing to address these issues and provide solutions, making space for private and non-governmental actors to assist improving the system. To mention a few programmes of importance: Tusome[xxxiv] is a national programme that provided a total of 26 million textbooks and supplementary materials to students in 1,384 primary schools to increase literacy rates; the latter is complemented by the 2016 digital literacy programme (DLP) that successfully provided 1.2 million devices to 21,718 primary schools and increased attention and enrolment as well as creating over 11,000 jobs in the field of ICT; and lastly, the Home-Grown Feed Model (HGFM) that built on school meals in a holistic manner by adopting a community-growth model that approaches local farmers to sell their products to schools, supporting both the local market economy alongside nutritiously dense diets for students which contributes to the global goal of zero hunger.[xxxv]
Written by Karl Baldacchino
[i] Ndemwa, N. & Otani, M. (2020) ‘Education System in Kenya – Its Current Condition and Challenges’. Memoirs of the Faculty of Education, Shimane University, p. 15.
[ii] Ibid.; see also Ng’asike, J. T. (2019) ‘Indigenous Knowledge Practices for Sustainable Lifelong Education in Pastoralist Communities of Kenya’. International Review of Education, Vol. 65, p. 22.
[iii] Ibid., pp. 18 & 19; see also Ng’asike, p.21
[iv] Ibid., p. 16.
[v] Ibid., pp. 19; see also Jonyo, D. O. & Jonyo, B. O. (2017) ‘Teacher Management: Emerging Issues in Kenya’. European Journal of Educational Studies, Vol. 4(1), p. 19; see also Jesse, N. W. (2021) ‘Effective Ways of Overcoming Challenges Facing High School Teachers in Kenya’. International Journal of Humanities and Social Science, Vol. 11(1), p. 45; see also Ngwacho, A. G. (2020) ‘COVID-19 Pandemic Impact on Kenya Education Sector: Leaner Challenges and Mitigations’. Journal of Research Innovation and Implementation Education, Vol 4(2), pp. 129-130.
[vi] Ibid., p. 16; see also Kibaara, J. M. (2021) ‘Kenya’s Education Goals Face the Challenges of Affordability, Traditions and COVID-19. The Conversation. Available online from: https://theconversation.com/kenyas-education-goals-face-the-challenges-of-affordability-traditions-and-covid-19-168113 [Accessed 04/05/2022]; see also Abuya, B. A. (2021) ‘Securing the Education of Kenya’s Girls During COVID-19’. The Conversation. Available online from: https://theconversation.com/securing-the-education-of-kenyas-girls-during-covid-19-154871 [Accessed on 04/05/2022]; see also Akala, B. M. (2021) ‘Revisiting Education Reform in Kenya: A Case of Competency Based Curriculum (CBC)’. Social Studies & Humanities Open, Vol. 3, p. 2; see also Jensen, A. (2019) ‘Enhancing Digital Education in Kenya’. The Borgen Project. Available online from: https://borgenproject.org/digital-education-in-kenya/ [Accessed on 04/05/2022]; Brock, H. (2021) ‘Continued Education for Vulnerable Children in Kenya’. The Borgen Project. Available online from: https://borgenproject.org/vulnerable-children-in-kenya/ [Accessed on 04/05/2022].
[viii] Tafuta Kenya, ‘Challenges Facing Education in Kenya and Solutions’. Available online from: https://tafutakenya.com/challenges-facing-education-in-kenya-and-solutions/ [Accessed on 04/05/2022]; see also Samuel (2022) ‘Challenges Facing Educational Planning in Kenya’. World Student Forum. Available online from: https://worldstudentforum.com/challenges-facing-educational-planning-in-kenya/ [Accessed on 04/05/2022]; see also Ndemwa & Otoni, pp. 19-20 & 23-24; see also Jonyo & Jonyo, pp. 21 & 34-36; see also Jesse, pp. 46-48; see also Akala, pp. 1 & 2.
[x] Manning, G. (2021) ‘Education in Kenya is a Path Out of Poverty’. The Borgen Project. Available online from: https://borgenproject.org/education-in-kenya/ [Accessed on 04/05/2022]; Ngwacho, p. 133.
[xii] Abuya, B. A. et al. (2019) ‘Family Structure and Child Educational Attainment in the Slums of Nairobi, Kenya’. Sage Open, April-June 2019, pp. 1-2 & 5-8.
[xiii] Ibid.; see also Kabaara; see also Jonyo & Jonyo, p. 25; see also Jesse, p.48; see also Akala, p. 2.
[xiv] Ibid.; see also Ndemwa & Otoni, pp. 16-17; see also Kibaara.
[xv] Abuya; see also Tafuta Kenya; see also Ndemwa & Otoni, pp. 23-24; see also Olk, S. (2019) ‘Overcoming Barriers to Education for Internally Displaced Children’. The Borgen Project. Available online from: https://borgenproject.org/education-for-internally-displaced-children/ [Accessed on 04/05/2022].
[xvii] Ibid.; see also Tafuta Kenya; see also
[xviii] Ngwacho, p. 131
[xix] Ibid., pp. 133-134; see also Kibuku, R. N. et al. (2020) ‘e-Learning Challenges Faced by Universities in Kenya: A Literature Review’. The Electronic Journal of e-Learning, Vol. 18(2), pp. 153-154; see also Brock; see also Kibaara; see also Abuya; see also Manning.
[xx] Kibuku et al., pp. 154 & 156-157.
[xxiii] Tafuta Kenya.
[xxiv] Ndemwa & Otoni, p. 19.
[xxv] Jonyo & Jonyo, pp. 23-26.
[xxvi] Ibid., pp. 32 & 36-37.
[xxvii] Akala, pp. 1, 2 & 4; see also Ng’asike, pp. 27, 35 & 37; see also Tafuta Kenya.
[xxviii] Ibid., p. 2.
[xxix] Ibid., p. 3; see also Ndemwa & Otoni, pp. 17 & 23.
[xxx] Ibid., p. 7; see also Ng’asike, pp. 22-24 who gives a good indication how historical progress during and after colonial regimes impact the access of indigenous communities to a quality education.
[xxxi] Ng’asike, pp. 37-39
[xxxii] Ibid., pp. 24, 28, 37 & 40.
[xxxiii] Ibid., pp. 27, 30-33, 36-37 & 41
[xxxiv] ‘Let’s read’ in Kiswahili’.
[xxxv] Jensen; see also Maria, J. (2020) ‘Tusome: Powering Childhood Learning in Kenya’. The Borgen Project. Available online from: https://borgenproject.org/tusome-powering-childhood-learning-in-kenya/ [Accessed on 05/05/2022]; see also Clausen, A. (2020) ‘The Home-Grown School Feeding Model Tackles Zero Hunger’. The Borgen Project. Available online from: https://borgenproject.org/home-grown-school-feeding/ [Accessed on 05/05/2022].