Nairobi — Rift Valley districts put up a strong performance in this year's exams, taking half of the top 50 national slots, according to results released on Tuesday.
In the first Kenya Certificate of Primary Education (KCPE) examination sat by the first batch that took advantage of the free learning programme in 2003, all the top 10 slots were taken by candidates from private schools.
The private schools also took the lion's share in the top 100 positions.
This is the most glaring pointer that while the free learning programme succeeded in enrolling many pupils in school, it also risked locking out children of the poor from elite public secondary schools because of declining performance of government-sponsored primary schools.
The Rift Valley's 24 districts, some of them arid and semi-arid, were ranked among the top 50.
Kirinyaga Central was ranked the best in the country.
Overall, the results released by Education minister Sam Ongeri also exposed a more serious issue -- the big drop in the highest marks attained by the best candidate.
The joint best candidates, Linus Muchiri Ngatia from Central province (The Trinity School in Maragua) and Rift Valley's Collins Kiprop Metto (Moi Kabarak in Nakuru), scored 434 marks, four fewer than last year's top candidate. Peter Kamenju Njoroge of Lily Academy in Thika scored 438 marks last year.
But that performance still attracted criticism because in 2008, the best candidate had scored 460 marks.
For the second year running, Prof Ongeri did not dwell on the reason for the decline in top marks achieved, instead choosing to concentrate on modest improvement in some subjects.
Third was Eleanor Matindi Karungari of Bethlehem Primary School in Ruiru, Central Province, with 433 marks out of 500 marks. She tied with Nyanza's Rabin Ochieng of St Peter's Cape View in Kisumu.
Fifth was Patrick Mumo Mutuku (Kathonzweni AIC, Makueni), Winnie Gatiria (Marion Preparatory) and Oprah Omeka Nyang'ate (Set Greenhill Academy, Kisii) all scored 432 marks.
Three other candidates, Michael Maina Njogu (Bethlehem Primary, Ruiru), Faith Kwamboka Gichaba (Marion Preparatory) and Wilbur Omae Nyabuto (Little Lambs) scored 431 marks to complete the top 10 listing.
All the top 10 places were taken up by private schools, a pointer that the slide of public schools in the national examinations was real.
Among the top 100 national candidates, only 26 were from public primary schools.
There are 121 candidates ranked in the top 100 since many of them tied.
In the regions, Rift Valley districts dominated the top 50 spots, taking 12 of the top 20 positions.
In the top 10, the region produced six districts in the ranking that was reintroduced for the first time in more than three years.
But Kirinyaga Central District, with a mean score of 282.13 marks, was the best in the exams.
It was followed by Eldoret Municipality with a mean score of 280.28 and Kajiado North 279.11.
Samburu North was ranked fourth, while Mumias, Keiyo South, Kitale Municipality and Makueni were ranked fifth, sixth and seventh respectively.
Nandi East from the Rift Valley and Makindu District from Eastern Province wrapped up the top 10. Nationally, there were 53 girls among the top 100 compared to 69 for boys.
Among the top 15 positions, girls took eight.
At the Coast, there were more girls, 57, in the top 100 compared to 44 boys, meaning girls did better in the examinations.
The gender gap fell in Central Province where girls and boys produced 52 candidates each in the top 100.
Girls were poorer in Eastern Province where there were only 35 girls against 70 boys in the top 100.
In Nairobi and Rift Valley provinces, there were 50 girls and 58 boys in the top 100.
Prof Ongeri welcomed the declining gender gap, saying we were nearing parity.
The minister said more girls than boys sat the exam in Central, Eastern and Nairobi provinces.
"In these provinces, we may need to start worrying about the boy child. I wish to call on the leaders and parents to assist my ministry in changing the attitude towards the boy child education before it becomes a challenge."
Boys topped in all the provinces except Western and Nairobi.
Despite the drop in the top mark attained by pupils, Prof Ongeri said performance improved in seven out of nine papers.
Girls performed better than boys in English Objective, English Composition, Kiswahili Objective and Kiswahili Composition, but boys dominated the other papers.
Prof Ongeri singled out Kiswahili as the worst performed subject, saying it augured badly for an official national language.
He ordered Education secretary George Godia to conduct an investigation to establish the reason for the poor performance.
Prof Ongeri also ordered that 8,110 candidates who had scored 100 marks or less be allowed to resit the examinations.
The affected candidates could also be allowed to pursue artisan courses in youth polytechnics "so as to improve their competencies".
Prof Ongeri announced that results of 1,103 candidates had been cancelled due to cheating.