The selection of Form One students that started this week is a major milestone in the school calendar as it marks a turning point for the primary school leavers. Following major initiatives in recent years, a majority of Standard Eight candidates are assured of transition to secondary school, enabling the country to provide comprehensive basic education — 12 years of schooling — to all eligible children.
This time around, at least more than one million learners who sat the Kenya Certificate of Primary Education (KCPE) exam will join secondary school — a major achievement in educational attainments and goals. The past trend was less than half transiting from primary to secondary and caused a dire wastage crisis.
Notwithstanding the record, it is pertinent to examine the whole question of admission and the state of secondary schools. Competition remains stiff for a few best-performing national and extra-county schools because the bulk of the institutions are in deplorable conditions. Although the Education ministry upgraded many schools to national status — 103 from the previous 18 — most of these are national only in name. They do not have commensurate facilities and resources expected of national schools, which is why many students and their parents shun them.
A recent report by Auditor-General Edward Ouko established that most of the original national schools had nearly double the students they ought to accommodate. Classrooms and hostels are congested and other facilities stretched, which impact negatively on the quality of teaching and learning. Paradoxically, most of the upgraded schools do not attract many students despite the Sh6 billion spent to expand and enhance their capacity.
For most extra-county secondary schools, the challenge is infrastructure. Most of them were built many years ago and have never been improved. Therefore, the facilities are inadequate, making them unattractive even if they have big names. Day schools, which are being aggressively promoted by the government because they are cost-effective, do not attract students as they are poorly resourced and tend to be localised, confining learners to their home environments rather than giving them exposure.
Put simply, secondary education is at a crossroads and requires systematic interventions. Government subsidies of Sh22,244 per student a year has been a big boost, but is grossly inadequate. With the fees capped at Sh53,000 a year, the amounts are unrealistic; they cannot meet the actual cost of keeping a learner in school.
The Education ministry’s allocation of Sh16 billion for the improvement of secondary school infrastructure is welcome since that is likely to guarantee quality learning.