Children attend nursery school, or kindergarten in the private sector until they are five years old. This lasts one to three years (KG1, KG2 and KG3) and is financed privately because there has been no government policy regarding it until recently.
Basic formal education starts at age six years and lasts 12 years consisting of eight years in primary school and four years in high school or secondary school. Primary school is free in public schools and those attending can join a vocational youth/village polytechnic or make their own arrangements for an apprenticeship program and learn a trade such as tailoring, carpentry, motor vehicle repair, brick-laying and masonry for about two years.
Those who complete high school can join a polytechnic or other technical college and study for three years or proceed directly to the university and study for four years. Graduates from the polytechnics and colleges can then join the workforce and later obtain a specialized higher diploma qualification after a further one to two years of training or join the university—usually in the second or third year of their respective course. The higher diploma is accepted by many employers in place of a bachelor’s degree and direct or accelerated admission to post-graduate studies is possible in some universities.
Public universities in Kenya are highly commercialized institutions and only a small fraction of qualified high school graduates are admitted on limited government-sponsorship into programs of their choice. Most are admitted into the social sciences, which are cheap to run, or as self-sponsored students paying the full cost of their studies. Most qualified students who miss out opt for middle-level diploma programs in public or private universities, colleges, and polytechnics.
38.5 percent of the Kenyan adult population is illiterate. There are very wide regional disparities; for example, Nairobi had the highest level of literacy, 87.1 per cent, compared to North Eastern Province, the lowest, at 8.0 per cent. Preschool, which targets children from age three to five, is an integral component of the education system and is a key requirement for admission to Standard One (First Grade). At the end of primary education, pupils sit the Kenya Certificate of Primary Education (KCPE), which determines those who proceed to secondary school or vocational training. The result of this examination is needed for placement at secondary school.
Primary school is for students aged 6/7-13/14 years. For those who proceed to the secondary level, there is a national examination at the end of Form Four – the Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education (KCSE), which determines those proceeding to the universities, other professional training or employment. Students sit examinations in eight subjects of their choosing. However, English, Kiswahili and mathematics are compulsory subjects.
The Kenya Universities and Colleges Central Placement Service (KUCCPS), formerly the Joint Admissions Board (JAB), is responsible for selecting students joining the public universities. Other than the public schools, there are many private schools, mainly in urban areas. Similarly, there are a number of international schools catering to various overseas educational systems.
Despite its impressive commercial approach and interests in the country, Kenya’s academia and higher education system is notoriously rigid and disconnected from the needs of the local labour market and is widely blamed for the high number of unemployable and “half-baked” university graduates who struggle to fit in the modern workplace.