The Kenyan Education System
The Kenyan education system is also referred to as “The 8.4.4 System of Education”. Students spend eight years in Primary school, four years in High school and four years at University. Students obtain the Kenya Certificate of Primary School Education (KCPE) after 8 years of primary school education. Primary school education is free in Kenya since 2003. Students then proceed to High school for four years and obtain the Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education (KCSE).
Kimani Maruge (1920-2009), holds the Guinness World Record for joining 1st grade at the age of 84.
High school students are graded in the ABCDE format. KCSE Grades determine the type of university that students attend after high school. Unfortunately High school and University education is quite expensive for average Kenyans; therefore many students end up not proceeding to high school and universities.
This article is focused on Primary school education, as I consider it as the first milestone in children’s education. Primary school years lay the foundation for future years. I have wanted to write this article for so long and I thank eduPad for giving me the opportunity to do so. I remember my childhood with a lot of nostalgia; going to school was fun but tough at times. Fun because of all the new things that we learnt and discovered, tough because of the outrageous punishments that we were subjected to, and even tougher as I watched helplessly as my schoolmates dropped out of school. I dedicate this article to all my former schoolmates who never made it to 8th grade due to poverty or forced marriages, and to the most intelligent boy in my 8th grade class who despite being an A student, could not afford to attend High school due to lack of school fees. He never gave up on education and went ahead to do menial jobs for three years to save up for his High school tuition. These sad cases are not rare in rural areas where the level of poverty is a bit higher than in urban areas.
Students playing outside their classroom in Kenya.
A normal school day in most primary schools starts at 7am and ends at 5pm, and all students in Primary schools wear uniforms. Students are taught Math, Science, Social Studies, English and Swahili; the last two are the official languages in Kenya. Teaching methods in Kenya differ from one region to another but are very different from Western Standards.
I had the occasion to work in French primary schools for three years and I must confess that the relationship between students and teachers was a surprise to me. French teachers interact with their students and punishments in French schools are a far cry from what most Kenyan students go through. I remember how teachers would use corporal punishment on students in the name of discipline (this was outlawed in 2001). The strict mechanisms used by teachers to punish students instilled fear and sometimes withdrawal, so most children were afraid of interacting with their teachers for fear of making mistakes. A closely bonded relationship cannot exist between the teacher and the student if the latter is afraid of the former. This is not to say that a good teacher student relationship does not exist in Kenyan schools; it does and it would even be better if children’s rights were taken into consideration.
During the 2013 presidential campaigns, education was a recurrent subject in political manifestos. The Jubilee government had promised to improve the quality of education in public schools by delivering laptops to first graders and building computer labs in primary schools. Even though this project has not yet been implemented, Kenyan teachers can seize this opportunity to interact and bond with their students. Teaching Information and Computer Technology in all Kenyan primary schools will also bridge the global education gap. Nevertheless, before rolling out this innovative project, the Kenyan government should take into consideration a major challenge in rural schools such as power shortages and the tight budget allocated to the computer deployment program. In my opinion tablets could be better a better option, since they are lighter portable, and less expensive.
Technology is definitely not the only tool to creating teacher student bonding but I think it will play a big part in improving teaching and learning mechanisms in Kenya. Enforcing laws protecting children from physical and mental harassment will also go a long way to protecting children’s rights in Kenya. Besides, large class sizes (30 to 50 students on average), poor terms and conditions, and low pay leave most teachers overworked and without motivation. However even if all the above-mentioned factors are taken into consideration, the Kenyan education system is still one of the best systems in sub-Saharan Africa.
Despite all these challenges Kenyan children and Kenyans are very friendly and happy. The phrase “Hakuna Matata” (No Worries) is embedded in our hearts and minds, Kenyans rarely lose “la joie de vivre”.
by Lucy King’oo
Lucy is currently studying a masters program in International Studies at La Sorbonne Nouvelle University in Paris. She grew up at her grandparents ranch in Machakos county, Kenya. She loves French and Kenyan cuisine, long walks in Paris and road trips to the Kenyan coast.