Major clash over hosting of Grade Nine learners as transition looms

The pioneer class of CBC grade 7 in Nyamachaki Primary in Nyeri during a Home science practical lesson on 19 July 2023. [Kibata Kihu, Standard]

Controversy is raging on whether Grade Nine students should be moved to secondary schools or they should remain in primary schools.

Education CS Ezekiel Machogu said the 1.3 million grade eight learners set to transition to Grade Nine in January will remain in primary schools, in line with recommendations of the Presidential Working Party on Education Reforms (PWPER).

However, there are those, including some officials at the Education ministry, who feel since there will be no Form One admissions in January next year, the Grade Nine learners should be moved to secondary schools, and take up the facilities that will otherwise remain unused. 

Secondary school principals have said that, from January, they will have vacant classrooms they could use to host grade nine learners.

Kenya Secondary School Heads Association national chairman Willy Kuria, during the association's last national conference for principals, said their institutions are ready to host Grade Nine.

"Secondary schools have adequate facilities and trained teachers that the government can tap," he said in reference, partly, to the 10,000 classrooms constructed in high schools during late CS George Magoha's tenure.

Machogu said: "Sessional Paper No. 1 of 2019 provided for the education structure of 2-6-3-3-3 which allows learners to spend three years in Junior Secondary. The Presidential Working Party on Education Reforms (PWPER) also affirmed that this level of education be domiciled in primary schools." 

"These learners will sit examinations next year and transition to senior schools in 2026. We cannot therefore say Grade Nine moves to secondary school. I already spoke with secondary schools and we are clear on this matter," Machogu said yesterday.

Some have argued the proposals of PWPER do not reflect reality on the ground.

President Ruto had said Grade Nine learners would remain in primary schools and an official at the Education ministry, who did not wish to be named, said no one is willing to go against this position.

“No one seems to be bold enough to tell the president the truth about what some of us feel is a looming crisis. I doubt the president has been given the true picture. Someone must face the president with truth however difficult it shall be, to save the children,” the official told The Sunday Standard.

January will witness a transition that will see the first cohort of CBC learners join Grade Nine. 

Kenya National Union of Teachers (Knut) secretary general Collins Oyuu said the entire JSS should remain in primary schools.

"There are people who are trying to force a debate over placement of JSS,” Oyuu adding: “One key aspect that came out during the reforms deliberations was the physical infrastructure for teaching and learning. The government just needs to employ more teachers to handle the transition, construct an additional class in the learning structure and address the change of curriculum.”

However, his Kenya Union of Post Primary Education Teachers (Kuppet) counterpart Akello Misori feels the present primary school environment does not provide space for Grade Nine.

“All primary schools have class one to eight. They do not have class nine. There must be an additional classroom constructed in primary schools. Fortunately, that extra classroom will now be in secondary school because there will be no Form One admission,” he said.

He added: "The plans to hire 20,000 new teachers also hangs in the balance. Even confirmation of the 46,000 interns to permanent terms is still being canvassed. But we have teachers in secondary schools already who can be utilised in Grace Nine. Domiciling JSS in existing primary schools has already faced serious challenges.”

Kenya Primary School Heads Association chairman Johnson Nzioka said primary schools have adequate and well trained teachers to support Grade Nine.

"We have even purchased mobile laboratories. Let secondary schools concentrate on preparing for Grade 10. The children are already used to the teachers and we shall not release them," Nzioka said. "The government has also assured us that they are constructing classrooms for primary schools that do not have enough."  

Last week, Basic Ediucation PS Belio Kipsang announced that construction of 9,000 Grade Nine classrooms had started in the existing primary schools. Even after this, 7,000 more classrooms will be needed.

But there is also the question of equipping the new classrooms with some sector players questioning when the money for purchasing desks and chairs shall be released.

There are 23,286 primary schools according to 2013-2021 Ministry data, which means more classrooms would be needed to support JSS.

Some stakeholders have termed the 9,000 classrooms being constituted a good effort in efforts to anchor Grade Seven and Grade Eight in existing primary scholars.

Emmanuel Manyasa, the Executive Director of Usawa Agenda, said with only few months left, there is not much time to construct enough classrooms to hold Grade Nine learners in primary schools.

“Take Grade Nine learners to occupy classrooms left in secondary schools as you plan. It is that simple,” said Dr Manyasa.

He added: “In fact, sub-county secondary schools should hold JSS leaners and allow county schools upwards to hold senior schools. By now, the ministry should have mapped out and known how many institutions can hold what classes.”

John Mugo, Zizi Afrique Foundation Executive Director, cautioned that the objectives of JSS should not be lost in the transition process.

“The talks have largely been on academics. Little is being said about career growth of the learners. There was a reason behind having JSS in one compound. If we split them, shall we still serve the objective?” said Mugo.

He said the thinking to retain the JSS in primary schools was the fear that the children were too young, about 11 and 12 years, to be in secondary schools and that they needed to be close to their parents, not away, some in boarding secondary schools.

Parents were worried that their children would not be safe in secondary schools, which they interpreted to mean boarding institutions that are associated with cases of arson and indiscipline.