A severe shortage of teachers has hit state schools countrywide, threatening the quality of education and compromising confidence in public education.
Coupled with congestion in classes, dormitories, dining halls and even toilets as a result of the government's 100 per cent transition drive from primary to secondary, head teachers are struggling to maintain order and security while keeping operations going.
Teachers Service Commission chief executive Nancy Macharia said on Friday that the teacher shortage in secondary schools has risen to 95,258 from 57,380 in November last year.
In primary schools, the shortfall stands at 30,357, leading to an overall paucity of 125,615.
According to the 2018 Economic Survey, the total enrolment in secondary schools grew by 4.1 per cent from 2.7 million in 2016 to 2.8 million in 2017.
Further, the enrolment of girls increased by 4.3 per cent to 1.3 million while that of boys went up by 3.9 per cent to 1.4 million in 2017.
The retention rate at Form Four for boys and girls was 87.8 per cent and 85.1 per cent, respectively.
This year, the government hopes to achieve 100 per cent transition, and official figures indicate it has reached 95 per cent, which means more than one million more learners have joined Form One.
Because the increase in the number of students has not been commensurate with the recruitment of new teachers, the shortage has forced schools to hire teachers through the Boards of Management.
Granted, the Government has increased capitation fees to schools by about 33 per cent from last year, allocating Sh32.7 billion to free secondary education up from Sh28 billion last year and raising allocation for every student to Sh22,242 from Sh13,000.
The money however is not for personal emoluments, and head teachers have to find ways of cutting costs to pay teachers and keeping day-to-day expenditure to a bare minimum.
While the average student-to-teacher ratio is 1:45, a majority of schools are operating with a rate of 1:60 or more, leading to a stressed-out learning environment with minimal teacher-to-student individual contact.
Though the TSC has been hiring about 10,000 each year, it has been unable to match the attrition rate as teachers retire, leave for greener pastures, are dismissed due to indiscipline and other reasons, or die.
Still, the commission has been unable to attract teachers for some subjects such as physics, CRE, history, agriculture, English and mathematics because few trainees are taking up the subjects in colleges, while some of those qualified for the disciplines opt to join other careers.
From the mid-1990s, TSC began deploying diploma secondary teachers to primary, leading to a huge shortage of CRE and history teachers, most of whom were directly hit by the policy.
The commission has been unable to recreate the balance in secondary schools since then.
"The commission is aware of the strain this is causing teachers and is asking for patience and creativity in handling the situation as the government works out strategies and interventions including employing interns to ensure no child is left without a teacher," said Mrs Macharia on Thursday.
But the Kenya Secondary School's heads association chairman Kahi Indimuli says the situation in schools is pathetic and "very frustrating to teachers".
"Teachers have to really sacrifice themselves to meet the needs of students," he says, warning that if the situation is not handled well, it will compromise the quality of teaching in state schools.
According to the Ministry of Education regulations, teachers are required to teach 27 lessons per week with six subjects per day.
However, with the shortage crisis, some teachers, especially in the most congested schools, are teaching more than 30 lessons a week, which Mr Indimuli says could lead to burn out.
At Machakos Boys, where Mr Indimuli is the Principal, the school board of management has employed 11 teachers to help plug the shortage.
The school has 56 teachers employed by the TSC and is supposed to have 75.
He says vacancies in Kiswahili, geography, physics and technical subjects such as woodwork, computer and music are hard to fill.
At Maranda High School in Kisumu, Principal Edwin Namachanja says the school is required to have 91 teachers, but has only 56 employed by the TSC, creating a shortfall of 35.
The school's board of management has employed 32 teachers. "Currently we have 2,445 students and 10 streams which have congested classes of more than 60 students per stream," he said.
At Kiabanga High School in Kericho, Principal Joash Oloo said the school is supposed to have 72 government teachers but has only 52 with the board employing 18 others.
Mr Oloo says their classes are also overstretched with each class holding more than 50 students.
"With the congestion in classes, it makes it tiresome for teachers to attend to all learners and to mark all their assignments for all the subjects," he says.
At Mwangaza Muslim Day School in Mararal, Samburu County, Principal Abdlkadir Ismail said they have a shortage of nine teachers.
Only six are employed by the TSC, while the school has employed four others.
Mr Ismail says the school has also hired four volunteers who help the students with revision.
"We have mastered the art of using our phones to download learning materials and record science subject practicals and allow our students to watch them in class," he says.
Recently, Mr Ismail says, the school has bought 10 tablets, which teachers use to record lessons.
He says the school also faces challenges of infrastructure and does not have science labs where students can experiment after learning.
At State House Girls High School in Nairobi, Principal Joan Muoti says the school spends Sh2 million annually on salaries for teachers employed by the board.
She says their classes have more than 60 students each, stretching the work of the available teachers.
"In most cases, we use projectors in class to ensure all students see what the teacher is teaching," she says.
Mrs Muoti says she plans to offer 14 university students teaching practice opportunities as the school struggles with the shortage.
The teachers have been blaming the TSC of frequently posting teachers to day schools and neglecting boarding schools.
According to the government's Strategic Plan, by June last year, TSC had 317,069 teachers on its payroll.
The plan further shows that the learner population currently stands at 8,071,662 in the public primary schools and 2,761,769 in secondary school.
Over the last five years, the commission has recruited 28,843 teachers, 8,390 for primary schools and 20,453 for secondary schools.
To plug the shortages, the TSC will require Sh82 billion over the next five years.
Mrs Macharia said the shortages will likely rise to 125,615 following the 100 per cent transition of learners from primary to secondary schools.