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Constitutional & Legal Foundations

Kenya is a democratic government with political pluralism. The president is the head of state and government. The constitution is the supreme law of the state. It establishes and determines the composition, powers, and duties of the main organs of government namely the executive, the legislature, and the judiciary. Before independence, Kenyan education was divided into a three-tier system: schools for whites, Asians, and Africans. The best schools were reserved for the whites, the middle class for Asians (mostly Indians), and the lower class for Africans.

After Kenya's independence in December 1963, the Minister of Education appointed the Ominde Commission to assess the educational resources and to advise the government on the formulation and implementation of national policies for education (Sifuna 1990). The commission noted that independence created a condition that would not allow racially segregated schools such as those that existed during the colonial era. The commission recommended that, since independence signified the birth of the nation, education should serve as a means of uniting the different racial and ethnic groups that make up the nation.

The commission's decisions were influenced by international opinion and internal political socioeconomic forces published in several works including the "High Level Manpower Requirements and Resources in Kenya, 1964-1970" and "The Development Plan 1964-1980, and African Socialism and its Application to planning in Kenya." From these publications, the commission identified a direct relationship between education and economic growth. It was recommended that educating upper- and middle-class manpower was needed by developing countries, and could accelerate Kenya's economic pace. The commission endorsed an educational policy objective that called for free primary education. Under these recommendations, Kenya chose to emphasize an expansion of higher levels of education that was geared to meet the manpower needs, and as a means to increase primary school enrollment. From 1964 to 1969, deliberate efforts were made to slow the growth of primary schools, which had enrollment increases of 20 percent, rising from approximately 1 million to 1.2 million. The government's primary education development plan of 1970 to 1974 was designed to increase enrollment to 1.8 million in order to cover 75 percent of the school age population by 1974. In this effort, the old educational system (referred to as the 4-4 system) developed by the British colonial rule was abolished.

The 4-4 system consisted of four years of primary education and four years of intermediate. After the first four years there was a common exam, the Competitive Entrance Examination (CEE). Eight years of schooling was the highest level of education Africans could achieve under this system. The 4-4 system was replaced with 7-4-2-3, whereby a common national exam was held after the first seven years, the Certificate of Primary Education (CPE). This system was replaced in 1985 with the Kenya Certificate of Primary Education (KCPE) when the 8-4-4 system was implemented.

Politically, the government had embarked on "africanizing" the civil service and the economy. As a result, "kenyanization" of the education system was also emphasized. While "africanizing" or "kenyanization" of the educational system in Kenya was deemed necessary, there was a lack of ideological foundations that tapped into indigenous ideals, which would translate the needs of appropriate educational development and reforms. Sifuna (1990) notes the dilemma the Kenyan educational system faced by indicating that Kenya made rapid expansion at the secondary and higher education levels after independence was achieved. However, the educational policies were influenced by the manpower utilization model, which may have been justified but overemphasized. Sifuna asserts that the results of this approach were that the trained manpower did not represent the priority needs of the country. Thus, because many could not be accommodated in the existing labor market, the manpower utilization model was probably not the best choice, especially when it stressed formal education as the only potent tool for effecting the development of society. Therefore, the preoccupation of planners with this particular model prevented meaningful efforts to universalize educational integration of formal schooling with socioeconomic development.

The continuation of this policy has created a serious gap between the rich and the poor. As a result, Kenya is faced with an influx of unemployed populations in the urban areas, and a neglect of agriculture and rural development, which is the mainstay of Kenya's economy. The educational system change produced an overwhelming growth in school enrollment. The expansion of secondary schools led to a massive enrollment increase at the university level and an influx of unemployment. Kenya continued to face this trend as it enters the twenty-first century.

Additional topics

Education Encyclopedia - StateUniversity.comGlobal Education ReferenceKenya - History Background, Constitutional Legal Foundations, Educational System—overview, Preprimary Primary Education, Secondary Education