The World Bank reported in 2015 that 36.8% of people in Kenya lived below the international poverty line, set at $1.90 per day. Estimates from April 2020 predicted that this level would continue to follow a slow downward trend to approximately 33.1% in 2020 and 32.4% in 2021. These recent statistics tend to vary across sources, however. For example, Statista reports that in 2020, 27.3% of Kenyans lived in poverty. Ultimately, sources seem to broadly agree that more than a quarter of the population in Kenya lives under the international poverty line. However, poverty rates could reduce by increasing opportunities for education in Kenya. The potential of education in Kenya reflects in the country’s successes over the years.
Poverty Reduction Progress in Kenya
Though the number of Kenyan citizens in poverty is undoubtedly high, Kenya has made great progress in reducing poverty in the last 15 years. In 2005, the World Bank found 46.8% of people living in poverty. This means that according to the World Bank statistics, poverty in Kenya has decreased by more than 10% in slightly more than 15 years. However, there is still a significant need for further poverty reduction progress in Kenya.
Eliminating poverty is crucial for a number of reasons as poverty has an irrefutable impact on other areas of life. One of these impacted areas is education. Global Citizen argues that poverty is the greatest barrier to education for children. Families living on less than $1.90 a day often cannot afford to send their children to school, whether that be due to high attendance fees, the cost of school materials or the need for the child to contribute to the family farm or business. Hence, addressing education is intertwined with addressing poverty in countries such as Kenya.
Educational Success: Free Primary School
Located in East Africa, Kenya is part of a region where harsh climate, violence and general instability lead to high poverty rates and limited access to education. Yet, in the education spectrum, the country has made great progress in recent years, showing the overall potential of education in Kenya. One successful initiative began in 2003, when the Kenyan government rolled out the Free Primary Education (FPE) program, waiving all primary school fees for students. As a result, Olympic Primary School in Kenya’s capital of Nairobi reported that enrollment nearly tripled. This growth in attendance seems to have occurred nationwide as UNICEF reports that before the COVID-19 pandemic closed many schools in early 2020, primary school enrollment in Kenya stood at 99%.
World Bank statistics show Kenya’s successes in improving education through FPE and other programs, with the most recent data from 2018 showing a literacy rate of almost 82% for people older than 15. This is up significantly from 72.16% in 2007 and 78.73% in 2014. Yet, despite these improvements in literacy and primary school enrollment rates, Kenya still struggles to provide high-quality education and see children through to secondary school. Though nearly all children in Kenya attend primary school at some point, many of them drop out to supplement the family income. In 2017, the Kenya Climate Innovation Center reported a 27% dropout rate in primary school.
Even if students complete primary school, very few of them go on to any further education. Statista reports that in 2019, 10.1 million children attended primary school in Kenya. However, only 3.26 million children enrolled in secondary school the same year and only 509,000 Kenyan students attended college in 2019. More recent data is not available due to widespread school closures as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Potential of Education in Kenya
Getting students into primary schools was the first step to improving education in Kenya. But, while the most recent World Bank data states that, in 2018, the Kenyan government spent 5.3% of the country’s GDP on education, schools are still short on resources and teachers. In some classrooms, the teacher-to-student ratio exceeds 1:100, leaving teachers overworked and overwhelmed. The government is working hard to increase the percentage of students who transition to secondary school but requires more resources to employ enough teachers and support high-quality education for students.
Overall, education in Kenya has seen a vast improvement in the number of students attending primary school in the last 20 years as a result of FPE and other work. Now, Kenya must look to improve in other areas of education in order to fully empower students with the tools and knowledge to rise out of poverty.
– Julia Welp