The just-concluded Form One admission has brought to the fore the challenges facing secondary education in the country.
Although up to 80 per cent of Kenya Certificate of Primary Education exam candidates secured Form One places, a significant development in regard to expanding access to secondary education, the major challenge is the quality of learning and the capacity of the schools to accommodate the large numbers of students.
School principals have reported that their facilities are stretched to the limit and unable to cope with the large number of students enrolled.
A survey across the country indicates that there are few good secondary schools to write home about. This has created stiff competition for the few remaining good schools.
The worst hit is Nairobi County, which had a deficit of 24,500 chances. Perhaps girls were slightly better off as they have more places, courtesy of personal initiatives by retired President Moi who upgraded, expanded and set up new schools. But boys are worse off. There are few quality boys’ schools in Nairobi.
SELECTED ALLIANCE GIRLS
Statistics by the Education Ministry’s Directorate of Secondary Education are telling. Last year, there were 137,000 candidates who selected Alliance Girls as their first choice, Mangu 136,870 and Alliance High School, 136,660. Other schools that received high number of applications were Maseno School, Limuru Girls and Nakuru High.
At the heart of the problem is poor investment in secondary education. Since the structural adjustment programmes of the 1980s, which forced the government to cut investment in the social sector, mainly education and health, funding for secondary schools was stopped for more than two decades. Public secondary schools decayed. It was only in the last decade that the government went back to financing secondary schools.
In this scenario, the most affected are the top national and former provincial schools. Without State subsidies, the facilities have been left to degenerate and to date are in deplorable condition. Most of the original 18 national schools and many former top provincial schools, majority established in the colonial times, are a pale shadow of themselves.
When in recent years the government upgraded some former top provincial schools to national, efforts were made initially to give them funds for infrastructure development and upgrading of facilities. For example, in the 2011/12 financial year, the government allocated Sh750 million for the National Schools Rehabilitation Fund, which targeted 30 schools, each receiving Sh25 million for infrastructure development.
However, the funding has been intermittent and many schools have been left with incomplete buildings, forcing them to turn to parents to complete the projects.
Faced with the demand for secondary schools, the government encouraged communities to set up in new schools and between 2005 and 2014, many day schools were put up, largely through the Constituency Development Fund.
But this noble initiative ran into headwinds. Small schools were started all over but these later proved to be costly because they had few students yet they required teachers and all other resources.
In this mix is the question of secondary school financing. So far, the government has capped school fees at Sh53,000 for boarding schools. Under the subsided secondary school programme, it allocates about 12,000 a year for every child. In addition, it has waived examination fees for candidates. But truth be told, this is not sufficient to run a school, put up, expand and upgrade facilities.
In sum, secondary education is facing serious challenges that require urgent and serious intervention.
Since the government cannot provide the cash and all the facilities, there is need for a realistic model for secondary school financing, including reviewing the fees limit, which realistically, is inadequate to provide proper facilities and guarantee quality education.
Mr Aduda, a manager at Nation Media Group, is a specialist in education;firstname.lastname@example.org