The children

Early years

Primary School Years

Adolescence and Youth


Primary School Years

© UNICEF Kenya/2009/d'Elbée
A student at Ayany Primary School in Kibera, Kenya's largest informal settlement and home to about 1 million people.

Kenya is on track to reach one MDG goal – that of Universal Primary Education. Education is a basic right for all children as enshrined in the Education Act of Kenya.  The introduction of Free Primary Education for all children in Kenya gave children in Kenya an opportunity to learn than before.  This means that in Kenya today, it is compulsory for girls and boys between the ages of six and thirteen years of age to attend school.  Primary school enrolment levels have risen from 5.9 million in 2002 to 7.5 million children in 2006, with Net Enrolment Rates increasing from 77 percent in 2002 to 86 percent in 2006. The primary completion rate has also increased from 62 percent in 2002 to 77.6 percent in 2006 and more children are now transiting to secondary education.

Primary school in Kenya starts at six years of age and runs for eight years. The number of public and private primary schools has doubled since 1997 to 25,000 in 2007. The number of primary school pupils now stands at 8 million.  Since the achievement of independence in 1963, the Government of Kenya has been committed to expanding the education system to cater for all children. This commitment is driven by the Government’s desire to combat ignorance, disease and poverty and the belief that every person has the right of access to basic welfare provision, including education. Education, therefore, is vital for ensuring a good quality of life for our children and a better future for all Kenyans. 

The education system has expanded rapidly since independence, but the sector has had many challenges. Notable challenges that have been experienced include the sharing of costs between the government and parents from the 1980s to 2002.  Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, public schools were managed through a parent-teacher association cost sharing system. This cost sharing plan cut off many children whose parents could not afford to pay fees in Primary school and make other contributions required to run the schools. Due to the cost sharing system, government expenditure on school supplies and equipment was minimal. The responsibilities for the construction and maintenance of schools and staff housing were left to the parents. This continued till 2002 when there was a change over in the political leadership in the country.

Making primary education free and compulsory was a step in the right direction, yet many challenges remain and there are concerns about the quality of education declining because of the increased intake.  Many families cannot afford the rest of the expenses associated with schooling. These include books, school uniform, stationery and transport.  Class sizes are too large per teacher, desks are shared, and there are inadequate latrines and insufficient water services and meals.  As many as 300 children share one toilet in some areas.  


Primary school enrolment, especially of girls, is particularly low in the arid and semi arid regions of Kenya, where the majority of the people are nomadic pastoralists.   In 2000, there were just over 13.5 percent girls enrolled for primary education compared to 26 percent boys.  By 2004, in spite of the free education system, there was just less than one girl out of every five going to primary school and an estimated 33 percent boys enrolled.  Cultural practices such as female genital mutilation (FGM) and early marriages are some of the factors that affect school attendance for girls in many of the culturally predominant region like Northern, North Eastern and Coast Provinces. 


In Kenya, the Ministry of education manages the curriculum development and setting the running costs of the schools.  However, the management of schools is left to the school committees and Head teachers who are responsible for the day to day running of the schools. 




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