Secondary school education usually starts at 14 years of age and runs for four years. Upon completion of secondary school, students can choose to go to college or pursue other vocational fields. Students who do well in secondary school are admitted to college, and others join teacher training institutions, technical training schools, or the job market. The competition for admission to college and the training institutes is very high.
The secondary education program is geared towards meeting the needs of both the students who terminate their education after secondary school and those who proceed to higher education. In this context, the secondary school curriculum emphasizes job-oriented courses, such as business and technical education.
The objectives of the secondary school education are to prepare students to make a positive contribution to the development of society, and to acquire attitudes of national patriotism, self-respect, self-reliance, cooperation, adaptability, and a sense of purpose and self-discipline (Sifuna 1990). The curriculum covers six major areas: communication (English, Kiswahili and foreign languages), mathematics, science (physical and biological), humanities (geography, history, government, religious education, social education, and ethics), applied education (agriculture, industrial education, wood technology, metal technology, power mechanics, electrical technology, business education, accounts, commerce, typing and office practice, home science, clothing and textiles, food and nutrition, arts, and music), and physical education.
There are two categories of secondary schools in Kenya, public and private. The public secondary schools are funded by the government or communities and are managed through a board of governors and parent-teacher associations. The private schools, on the other hand, are established and managed by private individuals or organizations, including missionaries.
There has been a tremendous increase in both the number of secondary schools and in student enrollment in response to the rapidly increasing number of primary school graduates seeking entry to the secondary level. In 1963 there were only 151 secondary schools with a total enrollment of 30,120 students. In the year 2000, the number of secondary schools had risen to nearly 3,000 with a total enrollment of 620,000 students. Of this total, slightly over 40 percent are female. The rapid expansion at the secondary level has been the result of the vigorous harambee schools movement that has led to the establishment of numerous community secondary schools. Only about 50 percent of pupils that sit for the Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education (KCSE) get places in secondary school. These are categorized into four areas—national, provincial, district, and harambee. Students sit for a minimum of eight subjects at the end of Form Four for the award of KCSE. Compulsory subjects are English, Kiswahili, and mathematics.
The secondary school curriculum was developed with the 8-4-4 system's goals of addressing the following needs: to make a more relevant curriculum that would offer practical skills applicable to a wide range of job opportunities; and to provide equitable distribution of education resources that assured opportunities for all students regardless of their origin, creed, race, or region.
Though the curriculum is designed with the above goals, the postgraduation unemployment problem has not been solved. Unemployment has continued to increase and the number of educated and disillusioned workers has grown in great numbers, especially in the major cities. This is often due to the fact that schools produce graduates who have the hope that education equals access to jobs, but there are no jobs due to lack of infrastructure development. In other words, Kenya faces a problem of too many educated people without the opportunities for them to apply the skills that they acquired. There has been very little emphasis on agriculture and rural development, and many rural residents are moving to the cities.
Thus, the crisis Kenya faces in the twenty-first century is finding jobs for an educated people who are poor and disillusioned. Movement from rural to urban areas has led to overcrowded cities, higher crime rates, and lower educational expectations. A study conducted by Claudia Buchmann titled "Family Structure, Parental Perceptions, and Child Labor in Kenya: What Factors Determine Who is Enrolled in School" (2000) points out that there has been very little empirical research on the effectiveness of educational initiatives that have been implemented in Kenya. Court and Ghai (1974) also note that there has been a serious failure of communication between the educational planners and the educators. The educational planners are influenced by political pressure and as a result have rushed their decisions and placed an emphasis on the development of buildings instead of education. Court and Ghai (1974) also assert that the Kenyan educational system was not developed with "designed and tested objectives in mind but just grew."
Buchmann (2000), comparing African educational systems in general with other developing countries—such as those in East and Southeast Asia—found distinctive differences in the way families make decisions on schooling for children. In most African countries, and specifically in Kenya, low levels of economic development create an environment where the educational system is very competitive and where high educational achievement does not guarantee occupational mobility. This study also reveals that the theories applied in developing educational policies, if any, were not consistent with Africa-Kenyan values and were misguided. Kenya developed a highly expanded educational system that rivals those in the most industrialized countries in terms of its complexity and competitiveness. Yet, the strength of the extended kinship networks, polygyny, and the dominance of subsistence agriculture show that there has been very little change in Kenyans' lives (Buchmann 2000).
Also, while there has been a great increase in formal education, only 14 percent of the population was employed in the formal sector and 3.5 percent in the informal sector by 1990, nearly three decades after Kenya's independence. More than 80 percent of the total labor force remains in agriculture and pastoralism, with a labor force growth rate of 3.6 percent annually. The country is thus faced with intense competition for wage employment and growing pressure on developed arable land. In other words, a child's ability to find gainful employment in the future has more consequence for the entire family and not just for the individual child. For this reason school means a hope of increasing job prospects.
Social security for the aging population is usually based on the future earning of the children. Kenya had implemented a social security retirement system similar to that of the Western countries but abolished it in early the 1980s when it was declared dysfunctional. Plans to reimplement the social security system are again under consideration in the early 2000s.
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