The Kenya Forum | Kenya’s Education System – What is to blame for failures - The Kenya Forum

January 9, 2012


Kenya’s Education System: What is to blame for the myriad failures of application and results? The Forum investigates.

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Kenya’s Education System – What is to blame for failures

Kenya’s Education System – What is to blame for failures

“The dog ate my home ate my homework” as an excuse for the non appearance of school work takes some matching but blaming the local wildlife, or would you believe, witchcraft, for poor performances in exams beats that old excuse all hands down. Yes, it’s the aftermath of the Kenyan Certificate of Primary Education (KCPE) results and the annual inquest into what’s wrong with Kenya’s education system is underway: but first the witches and the wildlife.

Kenya’s Education System: Excuses, excuses

According to The Star ‘Leaders and residents’ (that covers just about everyone as far as the Kenya Forum can see) in Taita Taveta, attributed bad performances by students in the KCPE exams on ‘persistent human wildlife conflict’, particularly rogue elephants it seems who do not ‘bestow a conductive learning environment’.

Residents of Kwale county meanwhile, again according to The Star, blamed poor performances by two schools in the KCPE exams on the fear that students ‘would be bewitched once they shine in KCPE’.

Some parents of children at poor performing schools didn’t bother with excuses, they apportioned blame to the local school principal or teachers and others went beyond the blame game to attacking those they held responsible for their children’s exam results.

The head teacher of Matioli Primary School was attacked in Kakamega county. In the nearby Itenyi Primary School parents denied the head teacher access to the school. The head teacher of Makaminiwas was roughly handled as he arrived at the school on the first day of the new term, as was the head teacher of Kapoen Primary School in Nandi county.

The Standard reported (January 5) that ‘residents of Gucha District in Kisii County stormed six schools’, waving twigs and chanting slogans as they did so and ‘demanded [the] transfer of principals’. Only the intervention of a local catholic priest and later the intervention of Administration Police officers, saved the headmistress of one school, Sengera Parish School, from the full fury of the mob.

The Daily Nation reported that ‘in several schools across the country, head teachers just went underground fearing attacks from parents after their schools performed badly’.

Tragic Results

Tragically, one head master found the pressure too much. It appears that Mr Geoffrey Kiplang’at Sigei, the head teacher of Kalyet Primary School in Mulot Division, walked to a tea plantation and took his own life after his school’s results were annulled by the Kenya national Examination Council ‘over irregularities’.

Students also died. At least took their lives on hearing of below-expected exam results.

One 14 year-old girl from Kericho County, Mercy Chebet, was reported as saying, “Now I have failed in my examination and I do not know what to do next since the Ministry of Education has banned pupils who performed dismally in KCPE from repeating classes”. These were Mercy Chebet’s last known words. Her body was found soon after, hanging in her family home.

Kenya’s Education System: the blame game

Some head teachers blamed the parents for not helping their children through education, or for not ensuring that they turned up at school at all. Some blamed early marriages and pregnancies and yet others the shortage of teachers and lack of resources.

Kenya National Union of Teachers (KNUT) General Secretary, David Okuta, made a valid point, as reported in the Daily Nation. “It is unfortunate”, he said, “that the failure of the pupils is blamed on teachers yet their success is celebrated by the entire community”.

Kenya’s Education System: Failing classes, caving classrooms

Writing in the Standard on Sunday, Wachira Kigotho, drew attention to the lack of materials in schools including the fact that about 22 per cent of pupils have no exercise books, a ruler or pen. A study by the Southern and Eastern African Consortium for Monitoring Education Quality (SACMEQ) had also shown that only 15 per cent of pupils have sole access to a mathematics textbook, down from 23 per cent in 2000.

Kigotho also highlighted poor infrastructure in many schools, citing a report by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) which found that 40 per cent of Kenyan schools were poorly ventilated, 49 per cent without adequate furniture for pupils, 47 per cent prone to noise and 10 per cent whose roofs were caving in. Some 200,000 pupils attend schools that have no toilets.

Exacerbating these problems, and partly arising from them, other commentators pointed the finger of blame at teacher absenteeism that sometimes reached as high as 27 per sent, and fraud, the latest example of which is the case of educational book distributors colluding with the head teachers of some public schools to invoice for books stationery that is never supplied.


So there are just some of the problems and some of the accusations associated with an education system in Kenya that is in large measure seen to be failing. But what are the analyses of, and solutions to the problems?

Professor Maurice Amutabi, writing in the Daily Nation, drew attention to the 8-4-4 education system in Kenya (eight years primary education, four years secondary education and four years university of higher education) that has been criticized ‘because of being highly exam-orientated’ and its emphasis on mean scores and ranking.

The alternative 2-6-6-3 system being proposed, however, as professor Amutabi points out, doesn’t in itself, solve the problem: different format, similar result, i.e., exam orientated and tuition-intensive aimed at passing exams, not learning and understanding.

Professor Egara Kabaji (also writing in the Daily Nation) referred to the current ‘flawed system’ that has ‘failed to capture the essence of education’. For Professor Kabaji, in the current system ‘Rote learning is promoted as the best approach to success. That is why pupils without the capacity to memorise things are doomed to fail’. An education system of this nature, argued Professor Kabaji, ‘does not encourage independent thinking nor does it empower the learner with analytical skills’.

Another professor, this time Professor Sam Ongeri, the Minister for Education, announced on January 2 that the first and second school terms of the year would now be longer, holidays correspondingly shorter, and that schools would be shut during October for an ‘examination period’.

Perhaps that will help but it still seems like just crating more time for rote learning. Certainly the announcement didn’t seem to meet the full approval of Professor Douglas Odhiambo who is heading the government created task force to look in to the entire structure of Kenya’s education system. He let it be known that Ongeri’s announcement ran counter to the task force’s view. But then the task force, set up in February 2011 with a target to report in six months still ahs not presented its report so perhaps Professor Odhiambo should just get on with it before saying anything else.


So what is wrong and who is really right?

The truth is that all the problems with Kenya’s education system raised in this article, and many more, are current, manifest and deep-seated, from corruption to rote learning, lack of materials to poor teaching.

The truth too is that the solutions to the present problems touched upon here, which of course only represents a mere fraction of the many deliberations on the subject, are valid enough to be worthy of further consideration but without the resources, an honest system, a change of attitude, and long-term changes to our society, they will probably only be of marginal benefit.

What the Kenya Forum was thinking was that the problems of running an effective education system must have been considered time and again in other countries. There must be a catalogue of comparative studies worth looking at. Surely lessons have been learned by now?

Well, it seems, there are studies a plenty, lessons have been learned from experience and the Forum proffers some thoughts from just one article that may be of assistance to educationalists in Kenya.


In September of last year The Economist magazine published an article entitled ‘The Great Schools Revolution’. In it the author(s) noted that education is at the ‘forefront of political debate’ in many countries in the world in what was termed ‘a global battle of ideas’, as governments and educationalists seek to improve their national performance by drawing on ‘examples of good practice from all over the world’.

The great battle of ideas, The Economist argued, is happening now because of the ‘sheer amount of data available on performance, not just within countries but between them’. In addition, the article suggested, ‘experimentation is infectious… the more governments try things, the more others examine, and copy, the results’.

So what are the results?

First, The Economist’s article argued, ‘“the three great excuses” for bad schools have receded in importance’.  The level of spending on education, the influence of social class and that of local culture are of importance ‘but they do not determine outcomes by themselves’.

‘So what are the secrets of success?’ posed The Economist. Here it is verbatim from the article.

‘Though there is no one template, four important themes emerge: decentralization (handing back power to schools); a focus on underachieving pupils; a choice of different sorts of schools; and high standards for teachers’.

Professors Sam Ongeri, Douglas Odhiambo et al, please take note.


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