KCPE results reveal deep regional disparities

Patterns underline a poverty and nutrition penalty that children in marginal counties must incur.

In Summary
  • Chronic malnutrition and stunting are strongly correlated with poverty headcount.
  • Furthermore, there is now reliable evidence that links early growth failure and cognitive impairment.
Candidates sit the KCPE exam.
CELEBRATIONS: Candidates sit the KCPE exam.
Image: FILE

The 2019 Kenya Certificate of Primary Education results were released last week. For the 1,088,986 girls and boys who sat the examination it is either tears of joy or anguish.

For 9,770 pupils, or just 0.89 percent, who scored 400 marks and above, it will be ecstatic jubilation and an especially happy Christmas and a life-changing New Year as they enter elite high schools. The disconcerting part is that most of these children come from privileged backgrounds. They either attended private primary schools or the relatively costly public boarding schools.

Majority of the 0.89 percent are also drawn from the greater Nairobi (Kiambu, Kajiado, Mavoko), the counties of Nakuru, Mombasa, Uasin Gishu, Nyeri, Murang’a, Kirinyaga and Nandi. Moreover, 56 percent of the top 100 candidates were from the counties of Nairobi, Nakuru, Kajiado and Kiambu. A staggering 22 counties did not produce a single candidate in the top 100 list.

Regarding overall pattern, the 2019 KCPE results are not different from previous years. The dominance of private schools and public boarding schools is now well established. Similarly, urban schools consistently outperform rural schools. Counties such as Wajir, Mandera, Garissa, Turkana, Marsabit, Tana River, Samburu, Taita Taveta, Lamu, Narok, Kwale, Isiolo, Kitui are consistently anchored in the bottom pile.

Hungry and malnourished children cannot learn and achieve learning outcomes at the level of children who are well nourished in utero and after birth.

The patterns of educational attainment are also broadly consistent with the distribution of vital social and physical infrastructure. These include health services, roads, energy, water and sanitation. Moreover, counties such as Turkana, Wajir, Narok, Samburu, Kitui, Tana River also have poverty and stunting levels that are way above the national average.

Chronic malnutrition and stunting are strongly correlated with poverty headcount. Furthermore, there is now reliable evidence that links early growth failure and cognitive impairment. Hungry and malnourished children cannot learn and achieve learning outcomes at the level of children who are well nourished in utero and after birth.

The patterns of KCPE results underline a poverty and nutrition penalty that children in the so-called marginal counties must incur. Ours is not a level playing field. Invariably, a standardised national tests, KCPE and KCSE, perpetuate and reinforce socioeconomic inequality.

Examination results must be more than who is up or down. Student attainment should be used to identify and address the egregious historical and structural disparities in our country. How children perform in these tests provides invaluable insights into the idiosyncratic factors that determine household wellbeing as well as the covariate factors that reflect absence or presence of public investment that must undergird individual enterprise and achievement.

As we get into the second iteration of the so-called 100 percent transition into high school, we must endeavor to create an even playing field for all Kenyan children. Equitable access to quality education must be a birthright of every Kenyan child, not a privilege for affluent and elite children.

If the recent census is anything to go by, we must increase public investments in the so-called marginal counties. They are the new population growth frontiers and are on course to become the most populous counties.