As Education Cabinet Secretary Amina Mohamed announced the KCPE examination results on Monday, parents and teachers of a remotely located public school in Ikombe, Machakos County, anxiously waited to know the performance of their children.
Although a majority of the pupils had been posting good grades in other tests, they never expected that their school would emerge one of the best in the country.
Ikombe Day and Boarding Primary in Yatta constituency has been ranked the best school nationally.
The 95 candidates at the school posted a mean score of 418.6 to everyone's surprise.
Over the years, the school has steadily improved its mean mark. In 2012, it had a mean score of 296.14, 344.58 in 2013, 357.60 in 2015, 388.48 in 2016 and 389.844 in 2017, when it was ranked the third best performing public primary school nationally.
"Last year, we were ranked number three in the category of best performing public schools, but this year, we beat them all. We are grateful, our labour paid off, this is God's doing," said the school's head teacher, Mr Munya Mbondo. Of the school's 95 candidates, only one did not score 400 marks and above.
The best pupil at the school was Rita Mwelu, who scored 441 marks. The top boy scored 439 marks while the last candidate scored 399 marks.
Mr Mbondo told the Nation the performance was balanced across both genders, with the poorly performed subject being social studies at 77.44 points.
The best performed subject was mathematics, with a mean of 91.2 marks.
Teachers and candidates attributed the incredible performance to discipline, hard work and the fear of God. "The biggest motivation for all of us has been our steady improvement over the years. Teachers set their targets per subject and the students set theirs, then we all meet and agree on a target. This is a project that we start engaging in from Standard One but it is taken seriously in Standard Six," said the head teacher.
The teachers are also motivated by the school's alumni who, once in a while, take them for trips locally, and within East Africa, after they record improved performance. This time, they have been promised air tickets to Mombasa for their incredible performance.
Some candidates who spoke to the Nation added that clearing the syllabus in term one gave them ample time to revise and master the difficult areas in advance.
"We normally wake up at 4am and end our day at 9pm. Cleaning is done on Sundays. Our teachers are always there to assist us in the areas we experience difficulties; that is how we have managed to be where we are," said Gregory Mwende who scored 431 marks, and wants to study law.
The good performance was also attributed to a requirement that all female pupils shave.
But despite the great performance, the school — located 28 kilometres from Matuu town — is the epitome of survival in harsh climatic conditions characterised by lack of sufficient rain.
The school relies on water pumped from Ikombe market. At times, it is forced to buy water, especially during the long dry seasons.
Mr Mbondo said the water challenge, coupled with the long distances that pupils have to trek to school, led to the establishment of dormitories in 2012. "We also realised that during the rainy season, our students would get trapped by floods, a situation that often put them at so much risk," he said. At the moment, pupils live within the school, but this is not compulsory.
"For those coming from needy backgrounds, we accept them as they are. Somehow, despite the funds delay from the government, we manage to pull through," he added. The school does not have a library, and textbooks are normally stored in tiny offices.
The candidates the Nation spoke to said they have never interacted with a computer. A number of them have never even typed on one and they are not on social media like their agemates. Despite these odds, they said they aspire to become lawyers, doctors, journalists, engineers, among other professions.
They said they would want the government to reward their performance by gifting the school with a new library, a computer library and more dormitories to ease congestion in the existing ones.
Machakos Education Executive Lazarus Kivuva was holding a meeting with the management when the Nation visited the school.
To reward them, he said Governor Alfred Mutua had asked the school to make a list of its top priorities.