Puzzle of 175,748 students who dropped out of secondary school

Education CS Ezekiel Machogu. [Peter Ochieng, Standard]

Nearly 200,000 students may have dropped out of secondary school in the last four years, raising questions about the 100 per cent transition drive.

Analysis by The Standard shows that the 899,453 candidates who received their KCSE examination results on Monday were part of the 1,075,201 students admitted to Form One in 2020.

However, at the end of the four years, some 175,748 did not even sit the national examination, indicating that they may have dropped out along the way.

The revelation dents the 100 per cent transition policy initiated by former President Uhuru Kenyatta in 2018.

And what is shocking is the statement by Education Cabinet Secretary Ezekiel Machogu that those who have dropped out of school are negligible.

Speaking on December 18, last year during Form One selection at Lenana School, Machogu downplayed the numbers, claiming that the dropout rate is a ‘very small percentage.’

“I cannot say that there is a very big difference. Those who might have dropped out of school at the end of the four-year period might be a very small percentage,” he said.

It has however emerged that the students are unaccounted for.

An analysis by The Standard shows that 1,075,201 candidates were placed in secondary school in 2020 but only 899,453 sat the examination released this week.

The figures are derived from student placement data in 2020.

The dropout, equivalent to roughly one in six students, casts a shadow over the 100 per cent transition policy, which guarantees every child who completes primary school a place in secondary school. Critics argue that such a large number of dropouts cannot be simply dismissed.

Transition policy

The 100 per cent transition policy aimed to address high dropout rate in secondary schools, which stood at 6.6 per cent nationally in 2017.

The analysis by The Standard shows that day schools, which cater for underprivileged students, recorded the biggest drop out.

Of the 669,145 students admitted in 2020 in day schools, only 481,904 sat the KCSE exam, a drop of 187,241. 

County schools, a step above in terms of resources, saw a similar trend, with 51,072 students dropping out.

Only 137,382 students sat the 2023 KCSE examination compared to the 188,454 students who were placed in 2020.

The reason for the drop out remains unclear. 

Education stakeholders, however, cite poverty and teenage pregnancy.

Others blame it on underfunding.

Extra County Schools, however, recorded fewer number of dropouts.

Some 184,816 students were placed in the institutions four years ago and 179,641 candidates have received their KCSE results.

This shows that the number of students in this category of schools dropped by 5,175.

“These institutions being just a level below national schools are well resourced thus have a high retention rate, in fact more parents battle for a place in the institutions way after the selection and placement is closed,” Kenya Secondary School Heads Association Chairman Kahi Indimuli said.

However, the spotlight falls on national schools, where the trend flips – with an increase in candidates exceeding the initial placement figure.

The data analysed shows that the number of students sitting KCSE increased from the 33,099 who were placed during Form One selection to 35,715 who sat their national exam.

This suggests these institutions continue to attract students even after initial placement, highlighting potential inequities in resource allocation and student preferences.

The big question, however, is where did the nearly 200,000 missing students go?

National Parents Association Chairman Silas Obuhatsa on Wednesday termed the numbers “alarming and a cause for concern.” 

Obuhatsa said their is need for evaluation to identify the cause.

He also called for a tracking mechanism of potential learners right from birth to the time they join school and when they exit.

“This is the only way that we will be able to know where the leakage happens and when it happens instead of waiting until they get to Form Four to find out that a big number of learners are missing,” Obuhatsa said in a phone interview.

Usawa Agenda Executive Director Emmanuel Manyasa said the numbers expose the cracks in Kenya’s education system, the socioeconomic disparities and the challenges of ensuring quality education for all.

“As the government scrambles to plug the leaks, the question remains: where did they go, these 200,000 missing students, and what does their disappearance tell us about the Kenyan dream?” he posed.

Kenya Union of Post Primary Education Teachers Secretary General Akello Misori said that the 100 per cent transition policy has not been properly executed.

He said the policy lacks a sustainable way to ensure learners are retained over the four-year period.

Misori noted that students are sometimes overburdened by school fees obligations as they come from low-income households.

“When you force learners into school and do not get a proper way to ensure that they are retained then they will definitely drop out. The government has failed in ensuring that their is proper support for the most vulnerable students,” Misori told The Standard.

Machogu, however, said the government has put in place measures to ensure that the 100 per cent transition is successful.

Funds provision

The CS cited provision of funds to schools. The government provides capitation to support the Free Primary Education, Free Day Secondary Education and loans and scholarships for learners in TVET and universities.

“Our focus is on lifelong skills which will enable people to access employment, be self-employed and skills to work outside the country,” the CS said.

The CS said that the government is developing a tracking system that will keep tabs on learners from primary to tertiary institutions.

“We are going to come up with an integrated kind of system which is able to monitor the attendance and progress of each student at every level,” he said.

Indimuli said that some of the students may have transferred to private schools, which registered over 60,000 KCSE candidates. 

These schools are not considered in the placement exercise thus students who end up in these institutions make part of those who might have been initially placed in State-owned secondary schools but later opted for private schools.

However, data from the KCSE results released this week shows that only 60,891 candidates sat exams from private schools.

It emerged also that some students might have repeated classes, while others could have died or just dropped out of school.

Indimuli faulted the 100 per cent transition policy for its short sightedness, saying it only concentrates on enrolling students in secondary school but lacks a clear plan on ensuring continuity to the end of the four years. 

“For us to succeed, we must fund and equip sub-county schools.”