The Kenyan Education System


Kenya began a campaign for free primary education after independence in 1963. Since then, the system of education has undergone transformation twice. Before independence elementary education was based on the colonial system of education. Since 1985, public education in Kenya has been based on an 8-4-4 system, with eight years of primary education followed by four years of secondary school and four years of college or university.

Some private schools, however, offer a system of education similar to the British system of education with ordinary level exams, "O-levels" taken at the end of 4 years of secondary school and advanced levels "A-levels", taken after two years of high school.

Out of all children in Kenya about 85 percent attend primary school. 75 percent of those who complete primary education proceed to secondary schools and 60 percent of those who complete secondary school proceed to higher institutions of education which include business and vocational institutions, national polytechnics, public and private universities within the country.

Nursery Education

Nursery education in Kenya starts between 3 to 6 yrs old and can last 3 yrs.
The last year is known as pre-unit and is compulsory for entrance into primary school. The cost per year is £120.


Primary Education

Primary education in Kenya begins at the age of 6 or 7 after completion of a year of kindergarten commonly known as Nursery school or pre-unit. The first class or year of primary school is known as Standard 1, the final year as Standard 8 and primary school children are known as pupils.

The school year at both primary and secondary levels, begins in January and ends in November. Students get 3 school vacations in April, August and December. At the end of the school year students advance to the next grade.

Students who completely fail their end of year exams usually repeat the class the following year instead of advancing to a higher grade. Most primary schools are day schools with pupils living at home. Fewer schools at primary level are boarding schools compared to secondary schools.

All public primary school pupils sit for the Kenya Certificate of Primary Education (KCPE) examination at the end of the school year in Standard eight. Students with KCPE scores of over 300 points are chosen for entrance to the national secondary schools.

In January 2003 President Mwai Kibaki re-introduced free primary education, which previously existed before the mid 80s. When the government adopted free primary education this led to a minor level of school fees charged by primary schools for text books, PTA, and extra curricular activities. The additional minor costs are in the region of £60 per annum. In addition to the minor costs, a student has to find the funds for their stationery each term plus 2 core text books and a school uniform each year.


Secondary Education

After students have taken and successfully passed the primary school leaving exam, government funded schools select students in order of scores. Secondary schools in Kenya fall into three categories - government funded, harambee and private. Government funded schools are divided into national, provincial and district levels. National schools take the top academic achievers from the Primary school system (in Kilifi only 3% of primary school pupils go to national schools). Provincial schools take the next highest scoring pupils with District taking the moderate scoring pupils. All other children who have the financial means go on to Harambee or private secondary schools. Traditionally, National Schools are the top schools in the country where around 85% of students go on to study at University.

All government funded schools are fee paying and only receive a small subsidy from the government. Harambee schools do not receive full funding from the government. Private schools are run by private organizations or individuals. Students who fail examinations either repeat the final primary school year or pursue technical training opportunities. A number of students also drop out of school by choice due to poor scores.

The cost of a secondary school place at National level is £500 – £700 per annum while the cost at District and Provincial level is £420 per year. (Kesho only sponsor students at National and Provincial level)

Under the current system, students attend secondary school for four years before sitting for the school leaving exam at the end of the fourth year. Students attend between the ages of 15-18 yrs but are often older due to missing a year through lack of funds. The first class or year of secondary school is known as form 1 and the final year is form 4. At the end of the fourth year, from October to November students sit for the Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education (KCSE) examination. This is similar to ‘A’ levels in the UK.


Vocational schools and colleges

These are two- or three-year post secondary school institutions also termed colleges. They award certificates, diplomas and higher national diplomas after successful completion of relevant courses. Courses offered by these institutions include Business Education, Accounting, Secretarial Studies, Nursing, Teacher Training, Computer Studies, Journalism, Media, Design, Culinary Studies, Foreign Languages, Tourism and Technical Skills. In order of credibility or accreditation, national polytechnics rank first, followed by government training institutes, teacher training colleges and private institutions. Although generally termed colleges, these institution do not award degrees. Degrees are only awarded by universities. Colleges admit students from 15yrs+ all courses are self financed with no government loan scheme available. Costs are between £50 to £500 per year.


University Education

Students who manage a grade of C+ or better qualify to study for a degree at university. Public universities benefit from government-subsidised fees and as there are a limited number of places, grades of B and in a few cases B- are required to gain a place on their degree courses. Students who do not get a place join private universities or middle-level colleges. Students who gain a government assisted place can wait up to two years before receiving their calling letter.

There are 30 universities in Kenya, 7 of which are public and 23 private. The 7 public universities have a total of 12 constituent colleges, The University of Nairobi is the oldest university in Kenya.

There are 3 categories of private universities: chartered universities - fully accredited universities, by the Commission for Higher Education; universities, which had been offering degrees long before the establishment of the Commission for Higher Education; and universities authorised to operate with Letters of Interim Authority (LIA).

Students spend 4 years at University minimum age of admission is 19 yrs but the norm is usually 22 yrs when they start their first year.

Government assisted places are only available for A and B+ students. The Government loan pays fees and accommodation. It usually costs a further £200 per year for upkeep, travel and books.