Probe exposes huge gender gap in national exams

Probe exposes huge gender gap in national exams

Only one in three candidates who scored grade A or A- in KCSE last year was a girl

As the Kenya Certificate of Primary Education (KCPE) exam starts tomorrow, alarms keep ringing on the dire state of girls’ education in seven counties.

Progress in achieving gender parity in basic education remains uneven across Kenya with girls continuing to lag way behind boys in key performance indicators such as transition and completion rates as well as exam grades, a Nation Newsplex investigation reveals.

Last year girls made up 28 per cent and boys 72 per cent of KCSE candidates in Wajir, the county that recorded the widest gender gap. The share of girls sitting the examination in Wajir dropped by one per cent compared to 2014.

The county was followed from the rear by Mandera and Garissa, where girls constituted 29 per cent and boys 71 per cent of the candidates. Girls in Garissa improved by one per cent over the previous year, while the figures in Mandera were unchanged.

In Turkana, Tana River, Lamu and Samburu, only one in three of the candidates were girls, the Newsplex analysis shows.

While releasing KCPE results last December Education Secretary Fred Matiang’i tasked county education directors with putting in place interventions that will ensure that all girls of school - going age in marginalised counties are enrolled in school.

Proof that educators are not equipped to immediately answer the alarm is the fact that the situation is getting worse or not improving in several counties. The proportion of girls who sat the examination in Lamu declined by five per cent to 39 per cent in 2015 from 44 per cent the previous year, while it dropped one percentage point from 29 per cent to 28 in Wajir.

In Turkana 32 per cent of the candidates were girls for the two years examined. But in Tana River there was a rare, significant jump of five percent from 30 per cent to 35 per cent in the share of girls who sat KCSE.

In these arid and semi-arid parts of Kenya, the story is much the same at the primary school level. KCPE results from 2014, two years ago, show Garissa, Wajir, Mandera, Turkana and Samburu had a large gender gap with boys more than girls by 34, 34, 36, 28 and 18 percentage points respectively.

The 2015 KCPE results show five counties recorded notable gender gaps. Mandera, Garissa, Turkana, Wajir and Samburu, had more boys than girls by 34, 32, 30, 28 and 22 percentage points, respectively.

While the gender gap over the two years narrowed in Garissa, Wajir and Mandera by two, four and two percentage points, it increased in Turkana by two percentage points and in Samburu by four percentage points.

While releasing KCPE results last December Education Secretary Fred Matiang’i tasked county education directors with putting in place interventions that will ensure that all girls of school - going age in marginalised counties are enrolled in school.

Uwezo Kenya Country Manager Dr Emmanuel Manyasa says the seven counties are lagging behind in girls education because most parents in those area prefer to take boys to school than girls.

“The environment for girls to go to school is not conducive. Boys can walk long distances in the environment that may not be conducive, but that is not the case for girls,” he says.

Dr Manyasa says in such communities girls are still looked upon as resources, in that they are married off in exchange of cows, making it hard for them to pursue education.

Moi University lecturer Prof Okumu Bigambo says the problem in the regions is lack of effective needs analysis. “Do the affected communities need education, or is survival is more important?” he asks.

Prof Bigambo says a community that does not have food, security or hope finds it difficult to focus on education. “Yes education is important, but when those who have not gone to school look at those who went to school and see hopelessness with no impact or meaningful life, then education is not important to them at all,” he says.

He adds that girls perform worse than boys as they are not given necessary attention by their parents.

At secondary level more boys than girls sat KCSE in 38 counties last year. In the last decade, nationally, the proportion of female KCSE candidates have wavered between 44 and 47 per cent while the percentage of girls who sat KCPE examination increased by 2.5 per cent from 47.1 to 49.6 percent, according to data from the Kenya National Examinations Council (KNEC).

Given that the population of Kenya is split right in the middle by gender it means that girls’ participation in KCPE is almost the same as their proportion in the population.


But it is boys who are lagging behind in some counties in Central and Eastern regions. In Tharaka Nthi, girls made up 52 per cent of KCSE candidates in 2015, the highest percentage in the country. Fifty one per cent of the candidates in Meru, Kirinyaga and Kiambu were girls.

The four counties also had more girls than boys sitting KCPE last year. In Meru, 54 per cent of the candidates in the examination were girls, the highest. Girls constituted 51 per cent of candidates in the other three counties.

In just under half of all counties (23 out of 47), more girls than boys or an equal number of both genders sat KCPE. They included: Nairobi, Nakuru, Bungoma, Kakamega, Kiambu, Kitui, Machakos, Meru, Kisii, Kericho, Uasin Gishu, Siaya, Trans Nzoia, Nandi, Nyandarua, Nyeri, Vihiga, Nyamira, Embu, Elgeyo Marakwet, Kirinyaga, Makueni and Tharaka Nithi.

Although the share of girls sitting the KCPE examination has nationally been at par with that of boys for the last two years and has reached near parity in the KCSE examination, the gains have not translated into better examinations results for girls. Boys still lead girls by wide margins in examination results.

While the statistics on participation in national examinations tell two different stories, the Newsplex review of KCSE examination results for the last two years tells a clear-cut story – girls have a long way to go before they can match boys’ performance tin nationational examinations.


Last year’s KCSE results reveal that only one in three candidates who scored grade A or A- was a girl, the same as the previous year. Girls constituted 42 per cent of candidates who scored C+ and above.

The Kenyan university entry cut-off grade is C+, but more demanding local colleges also require applicants to have a minimum C+ grade to be eligible for top diploma courses.

Boys not only led in 22 out of 30 subjects that were examined in KCSE but the gap between the average scores were wider in subjects that boys had higher averages.

In drawing and design, for instance, male candidates scored an average of 62 per cent and female candidates 32 per cent, a difference of 30 points. In woodwork boys’ average score was 57 percent and girls 28 per cent, a difference of 29 percentage points. The best average score in favour of girls was in home science where girls scored 59 per cent and boys 51 per cent, a difference of eight percentage points.

Boys led in the sciences (Mathematics, Biology, Chemistry and Physics) while girls led in English and Kiswahili but by the slimmest margins. For instance, the average score by girls in English was merely 0.11 more than the boys’.

Two weeks ago, Dr Matiang’i told Parliament that the government has come up with several measures to stem school dropout in arid and semi-arid areas across the country, including capitation in support of free primary education to all schools in the counties and a school feeding programme.


But the overall average scores in some subjects, especially the sciences, indicate that gender inequality is just one of the challenges facing basic education. For instance, the average score in Mathematics alternative A paper last year was 27 per cent and alternative B paper was eight per cent. In biology the average score was 35 per cent and general science nine per cent.

An analysis done by Newsplex earlier this year found that only two out of five students who joined class one in 2004 sat KCSE in 2015. The cohort of students was the second to fully benefit from free primary education.

In 2011, 37 per cent of the students who began Standard One in 2004 had dropped out before Standard Eight. The largest single dropout rate is during the transition from Standard Eight to Form One.

In yet another analysis of Form One selection data by Newsplex found that the primary-secondary school transition rate was 65 per cent. But when the Education Cabinet Secretary released the KCSE results this year he said the transition rate stood at 82.05 percent up from 78 percent in 2015.

Practical assessments for the 274,428 (47.5 per cent) female and 302,830 (52.5 per cent) male KCSE candidates is ongoing.  They will start their written tests on November 7-30.  The 473,719 (49.7 per cent) female and 478,753 (50.3 per cent) male KCPE candidates start their examination on

November 1 -3.

While releasing KCSE examination results early this year, Dr Matiang’i set up a team to look at performance in national examinations. The team's report was to help in the curriculum review process, he said.

But Leah Rotich who led the team declined to discuss with Nation what they found out.