The Ministry of Education in Kenya has continued to push for 100 per cent transition of pupils who sit for the Kenya Certificate of Primary Education (KCPE) examinations in order to ensure that every child gets the full benefits of a secondary education.
Secondary school is the bridge between primary level education and tertiary education whose benefits go beyond attaining a formal education. For instance, secondary education contributes to the reduction of HIV infection among girls, as they are able to delay becoming sexually active and avoid early marriages. Access to a secondary school education also reduces poverty among girls and enhances their chances of employment. Secondary education also benefits the whole society as girls, and the youth in general, spend more time in school, and are therefore less likely to become involved in violence, either as perpetrators or as victims of crime.
Moreover, evidence shows that a secondary education leads to a decline in socio-economic inequality between girls and boys, with secondary education having the most effect on bridging the gap. Furthermore, evidence suggests that children of educated mothers are more likely to progress and complete school than those children whose mothers are not educated. Overall, a secondary education levels the field of opportunity for young people and increases their chances of earning higher incomes and thereby attaining a higher standard of living.
What is the status of enrolment in secondary school?
Data from the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics shows that between 2016 to 2020 secondary school enrolment by class and sex grew by 8 per cent to about 3,520,000, out of which 50.3 per cent were girls. This increase was attributed to the government’s policy of ensuring 100 per cent transition from primary to secondary school. Looking at the 2020 school year, following the COVID-19 pandemic, Kenya’s total secondary school enrolment decreased from 3.5 million in March 2020 to 3.3 million in March 2021, a 5.7 per cent drop as schools reopened. Moreover, out of those enrolled in March 2020, approximately 233,300 students did not return to school to resume learning when schools reopened in March 2021, representing 6.6 per cent of the students enrolled in March 2020. The number of secondary schools that were able to reopen increased by 0.4 per cent.
A persistent problem
While between 2016 and 2020, there was an increase in the number of pupils transitioning to secondary school, the decrease in enrolment between March 2020 and March 2021 prompted the Ministry of Education to reach out to parents across the country in a bid to ensure that all children returned to school. The drive faced challenges including poverty, poor parental attitudes towards education and ad hoc policy implementation.
Evidence shows that a secondary education leads to a decline in socio-economic inequality between girls and boys.
But by far the most common and most significant challenge to the push for 100 per cent transition to secondary school has been poverty. Many parents say that a lack of resources hinders them from sending their children to secondary school, a challenge that has been exacerbated by the impact of COVID-19 on household incomes across the county. Parental attitudes where for one reason or another parents resist sending their children to school also pose a challenge. Calls for parents’ cooperation from the Cabinet Secretary for Education echo my reflections in a 2018 article where I observed that “bottom-up strategies” may be useful in creating the groundswell for the transition push. This would help avoid the implementation of haphazard policies such as sending government officials around the counties to “drive children back to school”. If parents work with both the national and county governments, they will create a sustained push to ensure that students not only make a transition to the first year of secondary school but that they also stay in school.
Why we may need to reimagine education
In addition to stimulating an attitude shift in parents, particularly towards their children’s education, it is important that the Ministry of Education, in collaboration with Non-Governmental organizations, develop programmes that can empower the parents financially to keep their children in school. The Advanced Learning Outcomes project (ALOT Change), a community-based initiative by the African Population and Health Research Center (APHRC), has been instrumental in working with parents in Nairobi’s informal settlements so that they can better understand their own roles in the education of their children.
By far the most common and most significant challenge to the push for 100 per cent transition to secondary school has been poverty.
Education stakeholders in both the public and private sector need to work in close partnership to seek better ways of providing scholarships for those children who are in need of school fees support. Through A LOT Change, APHRC has provided subsidies to pupils transitioning to secondary school. The US$ 113 subsidy has been instrumental in decreasing the financial burden of parents, as they are able to purchase books, school uniforms, and other materials required for school. The lessons learned from such programmes can be adopted and scaled up by both the public and private sectors in order to provide relief to parents facing financial challenges.
Some of the students who were “driven back” to the first year of secondary school had to go to school in their primary school uniform. Might it also be time for the education system in Kenya to reconsider the issue of school uniforms? This could also contribute in a small way to reducing the financial burden for parents. Moreover, COVID-19 has shown that there is a need for revolutionary thinking within the education sector if all children are to get a chance an education. The government therefore needs to ensure that schools are better able to take advantage of emerging technologies such as EdTech by, for instance, improving school infrastructure (including computer labs) and access to electricity. This would enable schools to provide both virtual and in-classroom teaching and thus ensure that students get the best of blended learning, linking the finest tenets of in-person and virtual learning.