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Survey: Kenyan girls top the class as boys drop out

Girls are overtaking boys in nearly every level of education, a Daily Nation investigation shows.

This has triggered an alarm among policy makers and education stakeholders on the effects of decades-long campaigns to promote the welfare of girls.

The findings paint a grim picture of the prospects of boys who bore the brunt of the socio-economic factors to fare badly in school.

It could also have far reaching implications in homes and the work place. In the startling statistics, on average, only one of every three children who started Standard One in 2003 made it to Form Four.

The 2003 Standard One class was the first beneficiary of free primary education. The class had 1,311,700 children. However, by the time they made it to Form Four last year, 431,463 boys and 418,640 girls had dropped out.

President Kibaki’s flagship project introduced in 2003, was praised across the world as the Marshall Plan which would usher in thousands of children who had been hitherto denied an education, often the single most important opening to a better future for the poor in the developing world.

Kibaki’s free learning was later to include free tuition in secondary school, but the shocking statistics will now send educationists back to the drawing board.

The investigation was conducted by the Nation’s Newsplex project together with the Institute of Economic Affairs, a public policy think tank.


After crunching data collected, verified and published by Government agencies, such as those carried in the economic surveys, we found that despite more boys being born and even surviving school-going age, more girls are being enrolled in school.

The population ratios show that there are more boys than girls until the late teenage years, when the number of girls surpasses that of boys.

The Economic Survey 2015 shows there are indeed more girls enrolled for pre-primary education.

In primary school, the number of boys in Standard One to Seven is higher than that of girls but the gap between boys and girls is closing up because boys are dropping out of school faster than girls.

“Our calculation shows that an average of 4,000 more boys drop out per year than girls. The data shows a sharper reduction in the number of boys than girls, thereby leading to a sharp pinch in the gender gap,” Institute of Economic Affairs chief executive Kwame Owino told Saturday Nation.

The survey shows that 29,300 boys dropped out in the transition from Standard Six to Seven compared with girls, among whom only 17,000 dropped out for the same class.

Given current trends, female student numbers are seen to overtake those of boys in secondary school by the end of this year and at university in the next few years.


And on Friday, policymakers were grappling with this alarming phenomenon.
Confronted with these statistics, Education Principal Secretary Kipsang Belio blamed the dire state of boys on “over-promotion of girls” and child labour.

“The society is paying the price for the over-protection of girls. Boys are also more prone to child labour. They drop out of schools early to support their families,” Dr Kipsang said.

Last week, while presenting his Budget estimates in Parliament, National Treasury Cabinet Secretary Henry Rotich expressed concern over the high number of pupils dropping out of school.

Mr Rotich said the government had allocated Sh32.7 billion for free day secondary education and Sh14.1 billion for free primary education to reduce the burden of parents.

While the enrolment at the university is still skewed in favour of men at 59 per cent against 41 per cent for women, the study found that in some courses like the popular medical courses — nursing, dental surgery, environmental health, biochemistry and pharmacy — women were the majority at 57 per cent.

It shows that in five years to 2014, the population of females has grown by 74 per cent and that of men by a paltry 27 per cent, representing a growth rate of 14.5 for women and 5.5 for men. This indicates that the number of women in these courses will double every five years and 12 years for men.

At the graduate level, female students comprise 51 per cent of the classes, consistent with the share of the female population in Kenya for the comparable age group.

“If these growth rates are maintained, the absolute number of students in these courses for women will be 68 per cent which is twice that of men at 32 per cent in another five years. The societal impact is medical care will have a more feminine face,” Mr Owino said.


The first free primary class completed their secondary school last year, and are set to join the university in the 2016/2017 academic year. Thirty one per cent of those that sat the Form Four exam qualified for university admission having attained a grade of C+ and above.

Of these, 34 per cent of boys attained C+ and above compared to 28 per cent for girls, which shows the gap is getting narrower and narrower.

Is Kenya prepared for this tectonic shift in the gender balance of power? What would happen in the workplace when this lot graduates and enters the job market and what might be the social impact of these trends?

Prof George Gongera, a human resource expert at the Kenya College of Accountancy University, said women are soon going to overtake men in top positions. And he saw this as a positive trend as there will be more saving in the country and Kenya can develop faster.

“Generally, women save more than men, accounting for 78 per cent of the country’s savings. Slowly, men are becoming a liability especially in the rural areas, where women are the main workers, bread winners and investors.”

He said he teaches working people in evening classes and 95 per cent of his students are women “as their husbands drink with no plan for education and career progress.”

The Federation of Kenya Employers warned that if the transition was not managed well, “there would be tension, resistance and sometimes outright rejection” (of women leaders).

“The organisations that will succeed are the ones that embrace this reality this early, and actually prepare for it to help optimise the output of this soon-to-be majority. Looking at the statistical trend, my advice to men is to deeply entrench the two thirds rule because soon and very soon, it will come in handy for us,” said employers federation chairman Linus Gitahi.

Additional reports by Ouma Wanzala and Rachel Kibui