Mass failure in science subjects spells doom for Kenya’s growth

Tuesday May 07 2019

Universities have raised the red flag over massive failure in mathematics and the sciences in Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education (KCSE) exams.

More than 90 per cent of candidates, who sat for mathematics and science subjects in the KCSE examinations failed.

Less than 10 per cent qualified for degree courses related to the sciences, a new report by vice chancellors (VCs) shows.

The university managers warn that in the near future, important courses that are core to the country’s development, will be scrapped for lack of students.

This year, the VCs say, many agriculture and science-based courses have not attracted students because of the massive failure. Some of the courses have been put on the chopping board, they note.

The managers say that realising the Big Four agenda remains a pipe dream should the drop continue.



Kenya’s Vision 2030 and the millennium sustainable development goals, which were crafted on the science and mathematics courses, are unlikely to be realised.

“If no one is getting into agriculture courses, how will the country realise food security now and in the future?” posed Prof Daniel Mugendi Njiru of the University of Embu.

He wondered how the country hopes to realise the agenda of manufacturing or universal health with such a high failure rate in the sciences.

A shocking 98 per cent of students scored below the C+ pass mark in biology in 2017, with 95 per cent scoring below the pass mark in 2018.

In the 2016 KCSE, a total of 509,822 candidates sat for biology but only 71,348 scored C+ and above. In mathematics, out of 570,278 candidates 63,813 scored C+ and above.

In chemistry, only 47,376 passed out of 566,747 candidates, while out of 149,782 who sat for physics only 50,596 qualified.

In 2017, 545,014 candidates sat for biology but only 1,503 scored C+ and above; in mathematics out 609,495 candidates only 3,926 scored C+ and above; while in chemistry 606,006 candidates sat for the exam but only 54,925 scored C+ and above.


In 2018, in mathematics, out of 653,549 candidates 98,219 scored C+ and above; biology had 584,924 candidates but 33,126 got C+ and above; while in chemistry 650,898 candidates sat for the exam and 73,566 scored C+ and above.

The report, dubbed Status of University Education in Kenya, was presented by Prof Njiru on behalf of VCs during a conference on the higher education sector on Tuesday.

The VCs proposed affirmative action where some courses are made compulsory, lowering of the pass mark from C+ to C, and rethinking the national exam marking scheme.

“Vice chancellors propose that agriculture be made a compulsory subject in secondary school so that those joining universities are able to pursue courses related to agriculture and natural resources among others,” he said.

Prof Njiru said that the VCs will propose lowering of the entry grade in the biology cluster from C+ to C.

Those at the conference included Education Cabinet Secretary George Magoha, education experts from the World Bank and VCs of both public and private universities.


Prof Njiru said that some programmes have not attracted students due to poor subject performance and students shunning them.

“Programmes of strategic national importance such as agriculture, environmental science, wildlife management, natural resources management and water resources management require some affirmative action,” he told the conference.

He warned that low enrolment in these areas will haunt Kenya in future as it will translate into an acute shortage of experts in key areas of the economy.

Prof Njiru said that poor performance in KCSE has been recorded in biology, mathematics, chemistry and English. “The successive failure in biology with 98 per cent (2017) and 95 per cent (2018) of learners scoring below C+ requires a special mention,” Prof Njiru said.


The report shows that 280 degree programmes need at least a C+ in biology, 355 programmes require a C in chemistry and 187 require C+ in physics.

“The 280 degree programmes requiring a pass in biology are of strategic importance as they support two of the Big Four agenda (food security and universal healthcare).

“This is because the programmes fall in key clusters such as medicine, nursing and health, agriculture, food science, agribusiness, and environment among others,” Prof Njiru said, adding that poor performance in the subject can mean three things: poor teaching, poor examination setting, or poor marking.

During the placement of students in universities this year, 107 programmes failed to attract students.