• The top grade in many subcounty schools averages around C and D+
• In extreme cases, some schools in that category reported more than half their candidates getting below D+
A teenager in Kenya will most likely join a secondary school where half the candidates will get very bad scores in the final exam. The situation shows no signs of letting up despite an increase in government spending on schools.
The recently released Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education (KCSE) results show that although subcounty secondary schools hosted 66 per cent of examination centres in 2023, they produced only seven A students in the entire country.
National schools, comprising less than one per cent of KCSE exam centres, produced 899 A students. Extra-county schools had 172 As, while county schools had 5 A students.
The situation was not much different in the 2022 KCSE. Despite hosting 65 per cent of KCSE candidates, subcounty schools had very few A students in relation to the large number of learners. The trend is likely to continue because subcounty secondary schools admit the largest group of learners exiting primary schools.
Of the more than a million entrants to secondary school this year, only 3 per cent went to national schools, 20 per cent were admitted to extra-county schools and 21 per cent joined county schools. Sub-county schools accounted for 57 per cent of all secondary school admissions in 2024.
The situation was no different in the January 2023 Form One placement. Three per cent of secondary school entrants went to national schools, 19 per cent to extra-county schools and 16 per cent were placed in county schools. Subcounty schools absorbed 62 per cent of all learners who left primary school in 2022.
Sadly, the top grade in many subcounty schools averages around C and D+. In extreme cases, some schools in that category reported more than half their candidates getting below D+.
Kenya National Examinations Council statistics show that 55 per cent of candidates in last year's KCSE exam got D+ and below. Most of these low grades were reported in subcounty schools.
The government is convinced that the performance of subcounty schools is improving. Speaking on January 8 while releasing the results of the 2023 KCSE, Education CS Ezekiel Machogu listed several subcounty schools that had several hundred candidates qualify for university admission.
"This time around, we had almost 300 A and A minus grades from subcounty schools," Machogu announced. "As government, we are focusing more on infrastructural development of those schools as well as equipping them and making sure there are teachers so they can perform as well if not better than national schools."
Frustrated about the poor performance in their local schools, some communities have engaged in hostile acts against school administrations. In Uasin Gishu county, parents stormed into the compound of St Martin Mafuta Secondary School soon after KCSE results were released on January 8. The parents blamed teachers for the poor performance of their children in the school.
The top candidate in the school scored D+ in the 2023 KCSE, followed by another who got D minus. The rest got a grade of E.
Four days later, the principal and teachers of St Gabriel Isongo Secondary School in Kakamega county were physically attacked by villagers for the school's poor academic performance. News reports indicate that, of the 179 candidates from the school who took the KCSE exam last year, only two qualified to join university. The rest of the candidates scored D minus and E.
Following the attacks, the Teachers Service Commission (TSC) withdrew all its employees from the two affected schools, perhaps as a warning to communities that may be planning similar actions.
TSC chairman Dr Jamleck Muturi condemned the attacks, warning that victimisation of teachers on any grounds would not be condoned. Muturi asked parents with grievances to address them through school boards of management or other legal means.
The Kenya Secondary School Heads Association (KSSHA) chairman Willy Kuria noted that parents in the affected schools should have used the right avenues to address their grievances in a dignified manner.
"Attacking and beating up teachers in their schools is not acceptable and cannot be allowed to continue," he said in remarks published by the Kenya News Agency.
What's the cause of poor grades among so many exam candidates? Education experts attribute the problem to a complex mix of factors, including schools that do not have enough facilities, teacher shortages, the home environment of learners, illnesses, personal motivation and study methods.
For instance, it is known that learners who are frequently absent from school do not perform well academically compared to fellow learners who are always present in class. The lack of school fees is often the main reason for learner absenteeism from class. The candidate's health and psychological preparedness are big factors, too.
LACK OF EQUALITY
In the book, titled, "Learning, Marginalisation and Improving the Quality of Education in Low-income Countries" published in 2022, Kenyan authors Emmanuel Manyasa and Mercy Karogo show that most children from poor households attend public primary schools because they are cheaper than private schools.
As public primary schools are not as well equipped and staffed as private schools, the children in public schools perform comparatively dismally in national examinations and get placed in subcounty secondary schools, which are also often poorly equipped and staffed. Children who studied in better-equipped but more expensive private primary schools end up either in national or extracounty schools.
"Although the allocation of spaces in secondary schools is purely meritocratic, it ignores the differential learning opportunities that children in public and private primary schools are exposed to," the two authors state.
A 2021 report authored by Pitus Otiso and Dr Christopher Ayienda of Mt Kenya University demonstrates the link between family circumstances and low performance among students in public secondary schools.
Low income prevents families from paying school fees on time. Low education among parents and involvement of the child in household duties leads to poor academic performance because the child lacks the time to engage in studies. In addition, cultural factors such as circumcision, teenage pregnancy and preference for educating some children over others are also to blame.
Machogu promised that the government will invest more in boosting teacher numbers and facilities in subcounty secondary schools. Living up to that promise will make a huge difference in the lives of the 65 per cent of Kenyans for whom subcounty schools are the only chance for their children of getting a secondary school education.