In 2003 the Kenyan Government fulfilled a pre-election pledge made in 2002 promising all children would have access to primary education. A bold endeavour, but one which has been mostly implemented although insufficiently funded, making some schools unable to properly deliver the curriculum, due to lack of resources.
Most communities in the Mwingi District - in common with much of Kenya – try to ensure that children are also catered for at both nursery and secondary level, although these must be funded by parents/communities which in itself is difficult due to the poverty of the area and the large percentage of orphans. A Nursery or Secondary school has no governmental funding at all unless it can gain state recognition, and even then state support is often limited to a salary for the head teacher, any other staff being either voluntary or paid by the community (often payment is in food donated by parents).
In the Mwingi area, at all schools a combination of Mukamba, Kiswahili and English is used, but all formal exams are taken in English.
Small nursery schools are being set up by many community groups (parents, widows, etc.) concerned that young children are not catered for. They are invaluable in that the pupils are receiving not only social experience and education to prepare them for the primary stage, but also a meal (often their only meal that day) which is provided by the school. This is usually a type of porridge and naturally, schools which provide a meal have no shortage of pupils.
A secondary advantage is that the parent or other carer is then free to carry out other duties to provide for their families whilst the young ones are safe at school. Obviously the school has to charge a small fee for each pupil and most children wear a school uniform which is costly for poor parents, however most parents/carers try their best to provide this.
Compulsory since the 2003 Act which has caused in subsequent years a healthy increase at every school in pupil enrolment. However, despite being “state funded”, buildings, facilities and equipment are the responsibility of the community, and it is this cost which many of the parents in the rural areas are unable to meet. Consequently many of the most deprived children are turned away because of unpaid fees.
The children are taught in eight standards (grades) and only move up at the end of each year providing they meet the grade necessary in the Kenyan Certificate of Primary Education (KCPE) national tests. Many pupils fail to meet this grading having lost term time due to unpaid fees or in the case of older orphans, growing food for young siblings is a priority. And it is not uncommon for a child to be still attending primary school aged 17-18.
The curriculum covered is very similar to the UK although teaching methods are very different.
On leaving primary school, pupils are encouraged to continue into a secondary school, but those available are mainly private boarding schools costing between £250 - £300 each year. For families low down on the poverty scale and especially orphans, these are not affordable. Since 2003 there have been some local day secondary schools which are built by the community usually at primary school sites, which charge lower fees of between £120 - £150 per year for tuition only, but even these are difficult to afford for the poorest children. Where possible, the community day schools like to provide a midday meal as they know that hunger affects concentration and learning.
In most secondary schools, private or community, there are four grades and formal national examinations (KCSE) are taken in Mathematics, English, Kiswahili, Chemistry, Physics, Biology, Geography, History, Agriculture, and Business.