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Kenya Fails to Achieve 100% Transition From Primary to Secondary Education

FILE - Kenyan students attending celebrations of Kenya's 60th Independence Day, also known as Jamhuri Day, at the Uhuru Gardens in Nairobi on Dec. 12, 2023.
FILE - Kenyan students attending celebrations of Kenya's 60th Independence Day, also known as Jamhuri Day, at the Uhuru Gardens in Nairobi on Dec. 12, 2023.

The school year is well under way across Kenya, but education officials say that not every high school aged student has made it to class. The enrollment is at less than 100%.

Social media pages in Kenya are filled with primary school graduates, holding placards asking well-wishers to help them with school fees to continue their education.

Some have received help from ordinary citizens and businesses, and some politicians have come forward to help; however, more than two weeks after secondary school classes began, some 10% of an estimated 1.3 million students who passed last year’s high school entrance exams still haven’t made it into the classroom.

The Kenyan government has been pushing for a 100% transition from primary to secondary school, but some learners are finding it difficult to continue their education for financial reasons.

Lucy Njau is a guardian to Wamboi, a teenager who scored 354 out of 500 required marks on the entrance exams. Njau says she is so poor she cannot afford the required fees, uniform and books — 50,000 shillings, $350USD — to send Wamboi to school.

Njau says, “If I want to take her to school, I will spend almost 50,000, including all the school requirements and even school uniforms that I cannot afford.”

Laikipia, Nyeri, and Samburu counties recorded a 99% transition rate, with the capital Nairobi, along with Nakuru and Wajir counties recording 98%. The high attendance rate in Wajir, a county in northern Kenya, comes even as schools and teachers there have faced attacks by the al-Shabab militant group.

Kajiado, Narok, Isiolo, and Kilifi counties have recorded lower enrollments ranging from 64-to-79%.

Meshack Oduke is the head teacher of Shilce Secondary School in Nairobi. He says most parents cannot pay the required fees to keep their children in class.

"The biggest factor is school fees," he said. "Many parents are unable to raise the expected money. And if you look at the fees for extra county schools, it's about 50,000. Now, if these parents are coming from a humble background, it's not going to be easy for this parent to raise this money to pay. Another factor is that there are those parents who are not ready to allow their children to be moved from one area to another and that one is also affecting the 100% transition."

The Kenyan government provides some financial assistance to students in need of aid, but the biggest chunk is left for parents to pay. Critics say the system is riddled with favoritism and corruption, locking out the neediest.

Oduke says the government should rethink the way it channels education money meant to help poor students.

"The government should come up with a program where all this money is going to be put in one basket. Then, this money can be sent to schools after identifying the needy students and those who are not needy because we end up sponsoring or giving this money to the students who are already able to pay for themselves. And those ones who are unable to pay, they remain at home," he said.

Kenyan officials have warned schools against turning away students due to school fees, but many teachers complain of a lack of money to run the school as just a few students complete their payments on time.