Kenya, a country of more than 53 million people in Eastern Africa, has demonstrated the power of education in reducing poverty and driving economic growth. In recent decades, the nation has been recognized as having one of the most progressive education systems in Eastern and Southern Africa. For instance, the number of students enrolled at Kenyan universities rose to more than 400,000 in 2014, doubling the enrollment in 2012. Additionally, the country’s literacy rate (the percentage of people 15 years and older who can read and write) rose from 72% in 2007 to 83% in 2021, marking a substantial jump in just 14 years. Currently, according to a June 2022 World Bank update, Kenya has almost 500,000 teachers across about 90,000 schools, providing education for “over 16 million children and youth.” The following is an overview of some of the key factors driving the success of Kenya’s education plan.
The Kenyan government has prioritized strategies and funding to increase access to education. In 2003, it introduced a policy that made primary education free for all pupils. The policy caused an immediate spike in the number of young Kenyans entering the education system, with statistics demonstrating that it “increased attendance by almost 40% within four years.” In 2008, the government followed up with a free secondary school policy, increasing students’ likelihood of successfully moving all the way through the system.
Significantly, these policies have helped equip millions of Kenyan children with the skills and agency necessary to lead better lives. Before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, 93% of Kenya’s children were enrolled in primary education, which the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) identifies as “the bedrock of development.” Furthermore, Kenya’s education reforms have reduced the childcare demands placed on families, especially women, and allowed families to devote more of their time to work.
Access to free, uninterrupted education has also allowed children to maximize the benefits of education, increasing their chances of entering universities or other institutions of higher education. Rejecting the idea that focusing solely on enrollment numbers is sufficient, the Kenyan education plan has emphasized diversifying subjects and ensuring that children have a wide variety of choices in their learning. Early secondary school children “take as many as 13 subjects” before narrowing their focus to eight subjects. Among these are Mathematics, English and Kiswahili (the native language of the Swahili people), which are compulsory for all secondary school students.
Kenya is Reaping the Rewards of its Education Plan
As children who began primary school in or around 2003 are now graduating from universities or completing tertiary education, Kenya is reaping the rewards of its efforts. Its investment in education initiatives has created new opportunities for Kenyan youth, paved the way for their future success and diversified and strengthened the country’s economy as a whole. Despite the challenges that the pandemic and climate shocks have posed, the World Bank estimated a 1.3% drop in Kenya’s poverty rate in 2022 and an average GDP growth of 5.2% in 2023-2024.
Kenya’s commitment to education has proven to be a powerful tool in reducing poverty and driving economic growth. The government’s investment in free primary and secondary education policies has significantly increased enrollment rates and literacy levels. By equipping millions of children with skills and opportunities, Kenya is reaping the rewards with a more educated and prosperous population, leading to positive economic indicators such as a decline in poverty rates and steady GDP growth.
The success of Kenya’s education plan over the past two decades can serve as an inspiration to other societies. It provides a blueprint of how government investment in education can strengthen local economies, boost employment, alleviate poverty and improve living standards for all.
– Charlie Valentine