Puzzle of 2.4m set to join high schools with limited space

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Education Cabinet Secretary Prof. George Magoha (right) lays a foundation stone for the construction of classrooms for junior secondary school at St Patrick’s Iten High School in Elgeyo Marakwet on January 08, 2022. PHOTO | JARED NYATAYA | NMG

When Kenya announced that the junior secondary learners, about 1.3 million pupils transitioning from Grade Seven will be housed at existing secondary schools as opposed to primary schools, in addition to the 1.2 million students joining Form One from Standard Eight under the old education system, it failed to critically paint a picture of one thing.

How will more than 2.4 million students share the limited classes, dining halls toilets and teachers?

From next year, Kenya’s school system is expected to change dramatically as the first cohort of students graduates from junior high. Secondary schools will receive Form One learners as well as the pioneer cohort of Grade Seven learners under the Competency-based Curriculum (CBC).

“There will definitely be a population explosion and this will severely stretch the available infrastructure and resources in secondary schools,” says education expert Charles Akach.

The chaos will stretch to the next two years as secondary schools will have double intakes in 2023 and 2024 as the last two 8-4-4 classes exit primary school and Grade Six pupils progress to Grade Seven which is part of Junior high.

Under CBC, elementary education is divided into pre-primary and primary education, taking two and six years respectively. Junior secondary starts from Grade Seven up to Grade Nine, while Senior Secondary runs from Grade 10 to Grade 12. It is a 2-6-3-3-3 education cycle.

The Latest Economic Survey shows 1,268,200 pupils will transit to Grade Seven and another 1,177,000 from Standard Eight to Form One, against 1,081,900 slots.

The double intake is bound to push enrollment from over 4.3 million students to 6.1 million in the first year and to 7.7 million the following year, according to analysis by the taskforce on CBC implementation appointed by Education Cabinet secretary George Magoha.

Data from the task force said there will be a shortfall of over 1.5 million places in secondary schools next year.

“The pressure will ease off in 2025 when there will not be an 8-4-4 cohort transitioning from primary to secondary school,” reads the report by the CBC Taskforce.

However, to many parents and teachers, the worry is how existing secondary schools will be able to accommodate the high numbers and how the primary schools will utilise the infrastructure that had been put in place for Class 8 and Four Form. The biggest beneficiaries will be schools that have both primary and secondary classes.

The other challenge will be hosting both boys and girls as a high number of secondary schools in Kenya are single-gender and accommodating both sexes mean more investments.

Official data shows that Kenya has 10,482 secondary schools — 9,238 being public and 1,244 privately owned.

There are a total of 32,594 primary schools in the country, 23,566 being government-owned or public while the remaining 9,028 are privately run.

The current Class Eight lot will sit their Kenya Certificate of Primary Education (KCPE) in December and will constitute the sixth group of learners to be admitted to secondary schools under the government’s policy of 100 per cent transition.

Already public secondary schools are grappling with congestion that has sparked health concerns and safety of students sharing overcrowded dormitories and sanitation facilities.

The congestion has been getting worse every year following the failure of the government to expand the infrastructure.

Martin Mburu, a private school operator and a Kenya Private School Association official notes that the majority of students coming from private primary schools are not prepared for the overcrowding they find in public secondary schools, leading to frustration.

Lasting legacy

The Jubilee administration hopes that the policy which it started in 2018 -and that pushes for admission of all children to schools- will be one of its lasting legacies.

When releasing results for Form One placement, Prof Magoha urged parents to be contented with the schools to which their children have been admitted.

But the selection process was marred with criticism. Critics say Prof Magoha aimed to send learners to public schools, leaving private schools contending with empty slots and under-utilised resources.

“The biggest problem is that government is not recognising that private schools are offering quality education,” Mr Mburu said.

In the just-released results for Form One selection, a large number of candidates missed out on their preferred national schools after the applicants surpassed available slots by up to 400 per cent.

For two years in a row, Nanyuki High, a boys’ boarding national school located in Nanyuki Town, Laikipia County maintained its ranking as the institution receiving the highest number of KCPE candidates, followed by Kabianga High and Pangani Girls.

Benta Abuya, a researcher reckons that the solution to the over-application problem is a total mental shift from what she calls the ‘mean-score syndrome’.

“Schools and Kenyans, in general, should move from the mean score syndrome because that is what makes parents prefer certain schools,” said a researcher from African Population and Health Research Center.

Away from the problems surrounding Form One posting, more are expected within the CBC system.

Last week, a section of government officials said that learners transitioning to Grade Seven will be compelled to be day scholars only for Prof Magoha to issue a statement -two days later- saying they will attend both boarding and day schools.

Kenyans took to social media to condemn what they termed a “mess” and “rushed process at the expense of the learners’ future”.

“Imagining they are mixed day schools, the small girls {about 13 years old} might be taken advantage of by big boys,” lamented one parent.

Prof Magoha said the ministry has identified 1,500 primary schools that will host junior secondary schools because they have adequate learning and teaching facilities and land for expansion.

To address the crowding woes, the government says it plans to expand CBC infrastructure by building 10,000 classrooms amounting to Sh8 billion in readiness for the rollout of junior secondary in 2023.

But how fast can the expansion be done?

“Some of these schools will be developed further to have a full-fledged secondary wing in the future,” he said.

Of concern to many experts is the “rushed” implementation of the CBC. Why wouldn’t the government not take time before rolling it out?

“Kenyans have been put in an awkward place as regards the implementation of the CBC. Our biggest concern is, what is the hurry,” said Mr Akach, a former secondary principal.

Critics also argue that Kenya has not had enough teachers to handle the large numbers of learners.

“Beyond the classrooms, there is the whole issue about the number of teachers that will be required to be able to deliver teaching,” Sam Otieno, the country lead for Regional Education Learning Initiative said.

Kenya has 116,024 high school teachers, with the Teachers Service Commission (TSC) committing to having trained 60,000 by December, ahead of Grade Seven learners transitioning to Junior High.

Government spokesperson Cyrus Oguna said that the ministry had “seriously considered every aspect of the CBC” and expressed optimism that the education system will succeed.

However, this is subject to the argument given that secondary school heads had started complaining of strained infrastructure a year after the policy on 100 per cent transition from primary to secondary school was introduced.

In 2019, the secondary school heads lobbied Parliament for a fee increase of up to Sh17,773 per student annually citing rising operation costs and maintenance of classrooms and desks.

This was barely a year after the introduction of free day secondary education allocating each student Sh22,224, in a review aimed at boosting transition rates from primary to secondary schools.

They lamented how increased enrollment is piling pressure on resources, especially food and utilities like electricity.

In their argument, the secondary school heads noted the current fee structure does not include extra costs of teaching subjects such as art and design as well as power mechanics.

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