Close to one million Standard Eight leavers have joined Form One this year, bringing the government within touching distance of its goal to achieve 100 percent transition from primary to secondary school.
Yet, rather than celebrate the feat, head teachers in most public schools are bemoaning the policy introduced in 2017 by then Education Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang’i.
A Nation survey of how schools are coping with the influx of students shows that many are struggling with congestion in dormitories, classes, laboratories, libraries and dining halls.
At the same time, some schools are grossly under-enrolled because parents have an obvious bias for better-known, well-equipped institutions, especially if they are closer to their homes.
The 100 percent transition policy is part of a global campaign to give all children access to 12 years of learning, and also show the government’s commitment to the constitutional imperative of the right to education.
At face value, operation ‘Tupeleke Watoto Shule' is not only viable, but also timely and thoughtful.
But, because the policy was introduced only last year, many schools, especially the national, extra county and county ones, have not had time to prepare for the surge in enrolment, which involves more than one million students.
The transition rate jumped from about 56 percent in 2004 after the introduction of free primary education in 2003, to 81.3 percent in 2017.
Hence, the campaign to achieve 100 percent transition means that most of the 250,000 students who have been dropping off the education system are now on board.
Many schools have turned dining halls into dormitories, while others are giving examinations on corridors because classes are too congested.
Hapless teachers have seen their work load grow and their working hours extended to cater for the high student numbers.
Other schools have bought tents, which they are using as classes or libraries to ease the congestion in classes.
The most affected are some national schools and top-performing extra county and county schools across the republic.
At Mang’u High School, one of the country’s oldest and consistent top performers, the enrolment has jumped from 1,259 in 2015 to 1,740 this year.
Between last year and this year, there has been an increase of 375 students, pushing the institution to eight streams, from six.
Its library was built to accommodate 180 while the classes, which are standard in size and meant to hold only 45 students each, are now crammed with 60.
Principal Abraham Githuka, though upbeat about the policy, says the school urgently requires more classrooms, larger and better-equipped laboratories, and a bigger library.
“We welcome the new students and we are glad we are a larger community; but we need funds to make their short stay here memorable, beneficial and enjoyable,” he says, pointing to the dormitories, which he says were built for 40 students each but now house more than 100 boys.
He says the school has only one resident nurse for the whole community, while one of the dining halls is roofed with asbestos tiles, which have been found to be harzadous to health.
In Vihiga County, more than 20,000 Form Ones have already been enrolled in various schools against an average capacity of 15,000, posing a major strain on infrastructure, made worse by a biting teacher shortage.
With a student population of more than 2,000, Chavakali High School now has eight streams for each class.
Each stream, Principal John Kuira says, has more than 70 students instead of the ideal 45.
“We don’t have any solution yet as we are yet to get funds to expand our infrastructure. Students are congested in classrooms, making it difficult for teachers to freely move around while teaching,” he says.
The school has 55 teachers employed by the Teachers Service Commission and 15 hired by the Board of Management. But it requires 15 more.
At Kaimosi Girls, the 1,800 students have enough accommodation after their school set up an extra three-storey dormitory to house more than 500 students.
The school has seven streams for every class, and has also constructed four new classrooms to beat the infrastructure strain.
However, the school’s Board of Management chairman, Dr Hudson Aluvanze, says the standard number of 45 students per stream is impossible to keep, and that each class has 65 students.
Students at both Chavakali High and Kaimosi Girls take their meals in shifts to avoid congestion in the dining halls.
The situation is the same in the Mt Kenya region, where many schools are reporting over-enrolment.
Kenya National Union of Teachers executive secretary Joe Mungai says he is worried the quality of education will suffer due to congestion.
“The government knew there would be congestion in schools but failed to plan, turning schools into crisis centres,” Mr Mungai says.
At St Paul’s Gatuanyaga Secondary School in Kiambu, 180 students who were admitted into Form One this year have to fit in the only two classes reserved for Form Ones at the school.
And at Chania Girls High School, a tent has been erected to act as a classroom for Form One students. Laboratories here have also been turned into classrooms.
About 20 kilometres away, Devki Ruiru Township Secondary School was expecting 80 Form Ones but was allocated 120, leading to congestion in classrooms and overburdening of teachers.
“The situation is the same at Mary Hill, Thika High, Broadway, Kenyatta Girls, Kimuchu, Thika Girls, Karibaribi and others. Teachers are doing whatever is possible to accommodate the extra heads,” Mr Mungai says.
In Murang’a, Kahuhia Girls Principal Naomi Njihia says they have been forced to add an extra Form One stream, but the dormitories are still crowded.
“More than 200 extra students have been distributed to dorms that were designed to hold far much less numbers. We need at least one extra dormitory,” Ms Njihia says, adding that the school also has a shortage of 10 teachers.
The Nation found the same problem in Meru. At St Mary’s Igoji, for instance, students are forced to eat outside the dining hall, which can only accommodate half the population.
A teacher at the girls’ national school, who sought anonymity because he is not allowed to talk to the media, said students waste a lot of time during lunch hour since they cannot all fit in the tiny room.
He said the institution has a population of 1,150 students after enrolling 330 Form Ones last month, against a target of 180.
However, Meru School, the other national school in the county, has sufficient facilities despite the roughly 350 students who joined Form One last month.
Principal Lawrence Kariuki said all his students are comfortable.
On the other side of the mountain, in Nyeri, head teachers are asking the government to finance the expansion of secondary schools in order to accommodate more students.
Top performer Kagumo High increased its streams from six to eight due to the high number of new students, and Principal Silas Mwirigi hopes the government will commit funds for the construction of more dormitories, a dining hall, lavatories and classrooms.
“We are okay now, but moving forward the government will need to fund us to expand,” Mr Njoroge notes.
At Barazani Girls in Makueni, the school last year had to convert a section of the dining hall into a dormitory to accommodate a number of Form Four students who had repeated the class after their 2017 Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education exams were cancelled.
Although some schools maintained that they have not been affected by the 100 percent transition, they cited lack of enough teachers.
In Nairobi, Highway Secondary School Principal Patrick Maritim said the school has created five streams for the 225 students they admitted this year, while at Starehe Girls in Kiambu Principal Jane Soita said the school has a population of 600 students, among them the 160 admitted this year.
“We only admit the maximum number of students our school can hold. We did not admit any extra because we want to deliver quality education,” Sr Soita says.
In the coastal region, administrators in top schools have been forced to use dining halls as classrooms.
For instance, at Bura Girls in Taita Taveta County, Principal Eunice Wambua said she expected to receive 168 students but ended up admitting 190.
At Dr Aggrey in Wundanyi, the administration has been forced to convert the school hall into a dormitory to accommodate the extra Form One students.
Deputy Principal Nyakundi Morekwa said the school admitted 278 Form One students. It had expected 221.
“The students have their meals in the open because the dining hall is being used as a Drawing and Design classroom,” he said.
At Kajire Secondary in Voi, the biggest problem is a biting shortage of teachers. The school, which currently has 10 teachers, has a shortfall of nine.
A teacher at the school said so far 97 Form One students have reported to class, while 83 more are on the way.
At Kenyatta High School in Mwatate, Deputy Principal Lucas Mghenyi said the school has a shortage of eight teachers. It received 252 Form One students, 10 more than it had budgeted for.
Mr Mghenyi said the school has received a grant to construct four classrooms to ease the congestion.
“We need more teachers, classrooms, laboratories and an extra dormitory,” he said.
In contrast, in Tana River County, many schools have been forced to take in students with low marks in a bid to fill places following low enrolment.
County Director of Education Lawrence Karuntimi said schools have an average 55 percent enrolment rate.
“So far only 2,098 students of the expected 3,802 have reported to school in the county,” he said.
Mr Karuntimi said most of the schools would have lacked students had they strictly adhered to Ministry of Education guidelines, since many students shunned institutions in the county for various reasons.
“Ngao Girls was expecting 144 students but so far only 71 have reported, while Hola Boys has enrolled 60 out of the expected 169, so we are still not in good shape,” he says.
The schools also continue to suffer shortage of teachers, with some, like Hola Boy’s, being forced to use their own funds compensate the shortfall.
Principal Stanley Motto says out of the 20 teachers in the school, 10 are paid by parents.
Mau Mau Girls Memorial, Ngao Girls and Garsen High face similar challenges, on top of inadequate libraries, laboratories, dormitories, and staff quarters.
In Kakamega, the high enrolment rate has worsened the financial woes of many schools.
Mr Gerald Orina, the Principal at Kakamega High School, says that, like their counterparts across the country, many institutions have been forced to create extra streams.
“The government should come up with a special fund for infrastructure and hasten the hiring of more teachers, as creating extra streams worsens the teacher shortage problem,” Mr Orina observes.
The school is also facing a water shortage occasioned by the high student population, he added.
At Koyonzo Boys, Mr Boaz Atid says that, while the school is facing congestion in classrooms, laboratories, the library, dormitories, “our most serious problem is staffing”.
“The school has a curriculum-based establishment of 25 against 52 TSC teachers. We are therefore forced to divert money meant for other needs to hire 11 teachers to address the shortage,” Mr Atid says.
Mr Constantine Wanyonyi of Mwira Secondary School in Matungu Sub-County said the institution is grappling with runaway congestion.
When the Nation visited the school on Wednesday last week, some students were learning in tents and under trees.
The school has also created extra classrooms in the dining hall and turned two other classrooms into a girls’ dormitory.
The school was allocated 135 Form One slots by the Ministry of Education but ended up admitting 197.
At Emanani Muslim Secondary School, Principal Mustafa Rajab said Form One students who reported after the admission date have not received their capitation funds from the Ministry of Education.
“Furthermore, the money has been released for specified vote heads, making it difficult for school managers to switch the use of the funds,” Mr Rajab complains.
“Some students were called to join boarding schools but because they come from poor backgrounds ended up in day schools. This money has not been diverted to schools where these learners are admitted,” he added.
Mr John Mukuti of Ingusi Secondary School in Mumias West said he has a student population of 506 but received funding for only 300 students.
He said the government released funds before all principals uploaded student data on the Nemis platform.
“Why is the ministry giving us a Nemis registration deadline when we are talking of 100 percent transition? It should leave admissions open until the second term.”
Reporting by Mary Wambui, Lucy Mkanyika, Stephen Oduor, Faith Nyamai, Derick Luvega, Ndung’u Gachane, Charles Wanyoro, Irene Mugo, Winnie Atieno, Pius Maundu, and Shaban Makokha