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Crisis looms in junior secondary as more students join Grade Nine

 Kenya Primary Schools Heads Association (Kepsha) chairman Johnson Nzioka.  [Edward Kiplimo, Standard]

The over 23,000 junior secondary schools are staring at a crisis as they anticipate a steep increase in student population.

This is likely to cause serious congestion, a shortage of tutors and overstretched facilities as the pioneer class graduates from Grade 8 to 9 in January.

Interviews with several school heads paint a grim picture as they shared what they describe as a nightmare due to lack of facilities including classrooms and laboratories and teachers for the extra class.

The school heads say the institutions will open doors not only to Grade 9 students but also to a new set of Grade One pupils transiting from pre-primary school.

Kenya Primary Schools Heads Association (Kepsha) chairman Johnson Nzioka warned that the two classes will need extra facilities to ensure a smooth transition.

“We risk facing the same pressure secondary schools faced in the wake of the 100 per cent transition, the schools were in a precarious condition with some schools forced to host students in dining halls due to lack of facilities,” Nzioka said on Friday.

The Education Ministry has indicated it will construct 16,000 classrooms to aid the transition but with only six months remaining, stakeholders foresee a rush against time in the preparation.

On Thursday, Education Cabinet Secretary Ezekiel Machogu said classrooms for Grade 9 will be ready by December. 

The CS said the first phase of construction of classes started this month and will see some 3,500 classrooms built.

“The first batch of the classrooms will be complete in four months, and we are starting another batch in about two months and by the end of the year, we should have done between 16,000 and 18,000 classrooms,” Machogu said.

He spoke during the launch of the fourth National Education Sector Strategic Plan to guide the sector for the next five years.

Machogu said the government has released Sh3.5 billion to construct the classrooms.

“We have released Sh3.5 billion and in the upcoming financial year(2024/2025) we will be releasing more to our 290 constituencies,” Machogu said.

But stakeholders have cast doubt on the government’s pledge.

A headteacher interviewed by the Standard doubted the viability of the government’s plan.

“What will a single class do to a school that has six or seven streams in Grade 8? Where will the other learners go?” he posed.

National Parents Association(NPA) chairman Silas Obuhatsa noted that with only 3,500 classrooms expected to be completed in the next four months, a deficit of 12,500 classrooms looms.

‘‘Is the government able to construct 15,000 classrooms between now and next year?’’ wondered Obuhatsa.

In April, the Ministry of Education dismissed a proposal by some stakeholders to have the final grade of junior secondary moved to secondary schools.

This means that the pioneer class of the Competency-Based Curriculum (CBC) will remain in their current institutions next year when they transition to Grade 9.

Basic Education Principal Secretary Belio Kipsang dismissed concerns that junior schools are not adequately prepared to host Grade 9 learners.

The transition is further plagued by uncertainty over the shortage of teachers. TSC has indicated that it will employ some 20,000 new intern teachers. But the plan hangs in a balance with a court case pending on the legality of hiring interns on contract basis.

In April, the Employment and Labour Relations Court ruled that the Teachers Service Commission (TSC) had violated the law by recruiting university graduates with practicing licenses as interns. 

“If this is upheld then it will mean that TSC will not be able to employ the interns in July as planned,” Kenya National Union of Teachers Secretary General Collins Oyuu posed.

Critics also question the lack of proper guidance on the plan for laboratories and workshops required at Grade 9. While some schools have acquired mobile laboratories provided by the School Equipment Production Unit, the reality for most of the institutions remains uncertain.

Also critical for the transition are textbooks and curriculum guides. The Kenya Institute of Curriculum Development director Charles Ong’ondo indicated that the textbooks for Grade 9 are currently being reviewed before publication.

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