A combined team of top education officials that visited 46 counties this month has been astonished by the level of rot in the learning system.
The team drawn from the Ministry of Education, Kenya National Examinations Council (Knec), Kenya Institute of Curriculum Development (KICD) and Kenya Institute of Special Education (Kise) has documented high levels of teenage pregnancies, early marriages, drug and substance abuse and school absenteeism than earlier thought.
In some counties, up to 60 per cent of young girls get married off early, dropping out of the free learning programme, according to the preliminary findings from the Education Quality Dialogues that ended on Friday.
Education Cabinet Secretary Amina Mohamed said the dialogues were critical to collect data to inform the ongoing school reforms, some of which have been based on outdated information.
“Our reforms must be based on data collected directly from affected stakeholders,” she said.
The dialogues, attended by all national and county government staff, found that the levels of school absenteeism in some counties was much higher than expected.
“We were shocked at the level of student absenteeism in some schools, which has led to declining enrolment as some learners drop out,” Director of Special Needs Education, Maria Cherono, said.
So bad was the situation in Kirinyaga County that stakeholders resolved to form a special team to investigate causes of the challenges of drug and substance abuse and absenteeism.
In Meru, the team established that early pregnancies, miraa chewing, female genital cutting and child labour were the main challenges affecting schooling in the county.
The sessions were also used to disseminate data on recent Knec studies on student performance and propose interventions.
In Mombasa, several teachers complained that they were not receiving enough books to enable effective learning.
In Kisii and Nyamira counties, churches came under scrutiny following accusations that they were interfering with the management of public schools they sponsor.
Kisii County Education Board chairman, Dr Henry Onderi, said some sponsors were responsible for the fall of academic giants after many years of interference with their management.
He said principals should be given room to initiate changes that are helpful to the schools they run.
In Homa Bay, Knec test developer, Mr Epher Ngota, challenged teachers to set tests issued to learners by themselves rather than buying examination papers to improve their knowledge and understanding.
In Kilifi County, traditional cultural practices among the Mijikenda community were blamed for high teenage pregnancies and poor education performance.
“Disco matanga” was cited as the main cause of increased school dropout and teenage pregnancies.
Kilifi County Commissioner Magu Mutindika said many pupils who drop out of school due to teenage pregnancies have found themselves engaging in early marriages.
Governor Amason Kingi, who attended the event, urged residents to shun cultural practices that promote early marriage and teenage pregnancies.
“We once paid a courtesy call on Melinda Gates (spouse to American billionaire Bill Gates) in Nairobi to assist in family planning programmes but, upon looking at the statistics on the number of girls dropping out of Class Eight or Form Two, we found that it was shocking,” he said.
The governor, who also narrated his struggle through education while growing up at Adu in Magarini, said education has continued to deteriorate in the region due to poor infrastructure and lack of teachers.
“In one school of about 1,000 pupils, only three teachers have been employed by the government while the rest are employed by parents,” he said, adding that “those employed by parents mostly resign after a few months for lack of pay”.
He urged the national government to improve infrastructure in schools since some pupils were learning under trees while sitting on stones and logs.
“Such are the issues discouraging education in Kilifi, which is why the county government, responsible for early childhood education, ensured all ECD infrastructure are well equipped,” he said.
In Lamu, KICD’s Shurie Barre assured teachers and other education stakeholders that enough training will enable them adapt to the new curriculum.
Coast Education Regional Coordinator, Mr Abdulkadir Kigen, called on all stakeholders in the education sector in the region to cooperate in ensuring the objectives of the new curriculum are met.
Speaking at the event, Lamu Deputy Governor Abdulhakim Aboud and Lamu East MP Athman Sharif raised concern over the deteriorating state of education in the region.
In Nyamira, County Commissioner Isaiah Nakoru called on TSC to enforce stringent measures to contain drunkenness among teachers.
Mr Nakoru said hundreds of students in schools in the county were suffering in the hands of teachers trapped in the vice.
“Drinking alcohol is a conscious choice and whoever engages in it knows too well the long-term consequences. Why should learners be allowed to suffer under them?” Mr Nakoru asked.
In Nakuru, congestion in classes was found to be alarming with classrooms holding more than 100 pupils.
Poor results in national examinations were also a result of child labour, poor literacy levels in languages, absenteeism of pupils and lack of food.
Governor Lee Kinyanjui wondered why the county was registering poor grades yet it was endowed with enough resources.
“Nakuru has no problems of insecurity, early marriages, moranism, lack of electricity and food. It should, therefore, be the leading county in national examinations,” Mr Kinyanjui said.
“Some schools organise fund drives to buy buses when they don’t have a laboratory,” Mr Kinyanjui said.
In Laikipia, it emerged that most of the public schools in the area had poor infrastructure and were in a sorry state.
Reports by Ouma Wanzala, Diana Mutheu, Magati Obebo, Kalume Kazungu, Charles Lwanga, Barack Oduor, Francis Mureithi, Ruth Mbula, Francis Mureithi and Steve Njuguna.