For years women lagged behind men in educational attainment. More boys enrolled for school and went on to get their college degrees, than girls.
Two decades later, girls are catching up real fast. In fact, today, fears are beginning to crop up about boys being left behind. The data is indisputable.
In this year’s Kenya Certificate of Primary Examinations (KCPE) exam results, for example, came out at the top.
Long outperformed by boys, this is the second year in a row that girls are edging out boys from top positions.
Out of the top 35candidates in the just released KCPE results 22were girls. The first boy emerged in position four.
And beyond the growing disparity between the grades attained by male and female students, is the fact that more girls are now obviously going to school than ever before.
According to data, the gap between boys and girls in Kenyan classrooms has changed significantly. The ratio of boys to girls who sat this year’s KCPE examination was almost at par with 498,775 (50.19 percent) being boys while 494,943 (48.1percent) were girls. In fact, 27 counties registered more girls than boys.
Education Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang’i exuded confidence that the sector had, at last, achieved gender parity in education.
Nairobi, Mombasa, Kisumu, Nakuru, Machakos, Kakamega, Meru, Bungoma, Embu, Vihiga, Kisii, Kitui, Makueni, Siaya, Busia, Nyamira, Tharaka Nithi, Trans Nzoia, and Murang’a are some of the counties that registered slightly higher number of girls than boys.
In 2016, out of the 942,021 candidates who sat for the KCPE examination, 49.7 percent were girls and 50.3 percent boys. In 2002 the proportion of girls was 49.3 percent, 48.9 percent in 2003, and 49 percent in 2006.
These statistics indicate how tremendously enrolment in education has increased in Kenya over the years.
In comparison, data from the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (the first of five member institutions that compose the World Bank Group) during the last two decades of colonial rule, 1943–1963, it is estimated that girls took up just 25 percent of all school enrolments in the workforce. In 1953, only one woman, achieved post-secondary education.
Fast forward, today even the Early childhood Development Education (ECDE) parity index has improved in favour of girls from 2009 to 2014, increasing over the period from 0.95 in 2009 to 1.05 in 2014. Thus there were more boys than girls at the beginning of the period and this changed to having more girls than boys in 2014.
Expectedly, it is an issue that became a talking point at the latest National Leadership Forum held at the University of Nairobi last Thursday. The discussion, “Kenya’s Gender Dilemma”, one of a series of such forums was meant to create awareness and spotlight gender issues as part of a mission to positively influence society.
Panelists Sicily Kariuki, the Cabinet Secretary for Gender and Bomet Governor Joyce Laboso, concurred that there were clear signs of the boy lagging behind in the classroom setting.
Ms Laboso gave an example of Sotik where she was MP for 10 years, saying the level of motivation of wanting to excel seemed to be waning in boys.
“I believe the girls being more motivated by the campaigns on the girl child education may have had something to do with it,” she said.
She cited the rise of gender fluidity as a possible cause for this problem, and seemed to suggest that this confusion may be leading to distraction for the boys in the classroom.
“And now maybe because the girls look like they are excelling, the boys now feel dispirited and are shying away and choosing not to compete with them but instead getting out all the same and deciding that maybe it is faster and more sensible to go out and look for money.”
Ms Kariuki noted that it had come to the attention of her ministry that boys seemed to increasingly feel the need to drop out of school to go and make a quick buck.
“A survey done by the gender commission recently indicates that boys have become a little more vulnerable to peer pressure and they are getting to be more limited in terms of how much pressure and energy they exert around themselves to keep going,” she said.
According to Ms Kariuki, in the Miraa growing areas, boys have abandoned the classroom for the khat business.
“The figures there are bad and very telling ... the boy child is running off to go and do that business because they think it is good money.”