Education stakeholders have warned that the country is courting disaster with the congestion in secondary schools that has been worsening every year following failure by the government to expand the infrastructure.
Concerns on security, health, safety, administration and discipline have been flagged as some boarding schools now have over 2,000 learners.
Over the past four years, enrolment in secondary schools has risen sharply because the number of learners leaving primary schools has been increasing every year. However, the growth has not been matched by expansion of facilities.
According to data released by the Kenya National Examinations Council (Knec) last week, registration for the Kenya Certificate of Primary Education (KCPE) exam had surpassed the 2020 figure by 27,276 candidates. It is expected to rise further by the end of the exercise this week.
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This year, over 430,000 more learners will join secondary schools than those who left at the end of the academic year in March.
All the KCPE candidates will transition to secondary school in the government's 100 per cent transition policy. Parents have expressed fears over the safety of their children in congested boarding schools.
"We worry that in case of an outbreak of Covid-19, it would spread very fast in congested schools. Also, in case an unfortunate accident like fire at night, where would our children run to? We want a conducive and safe environment for our children to learn," Mr Nicholas Maiyo, the national chair of the Parents Association told Nation.
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The Ministry of Education has elaborate guidelines on construction and capacity of classrooms and dormitories. These have been overlooked as the ministry pushes for the 100 per cent transition. The Ministry of Education spends Sh22,244 annually on every learner in public secondary schools.
Out of this, Sh5,000 is set aside for infrastructure development. Kenya Secondary Schools Heads Association chairperson Kahi Indimuli said the safety and security of learners is a big concern. He called for a review of school financing model, saying, the current one is based on the Kilemi Mwiria report of 2014 which was outdated.
"At the time, the class average was 40 learners but it is now 60. They were working with schools with about four streams but now some schools have over 10," he explained. The growth in enrolment has also increased teachers' workload, with many schools understaffed despite the Teachers Service Commission (TSC) employing 5,000 teachers every year.
Mr Indimuli, who is also the Machakos School principal, warned of a serious crisis after the January 2023 double intake when the pioneer competency based curriculum class transitions to secondary school.
Another principal who requested anonymity complained that the ministry favours well established schools when allocating infrastructure funds at the expense of day schools. This, he said, has created inequality.
"Why would someone give well-equipped national schools extra funds for infrastructure while day schools don't have basic things? That's why parents and learners don't trust our schools. They know we lack basic things that every secondary school ought to have," he said.
Another principal of a sub-county school in Embu County said that the schools also face congestion challenges. He gave the example of the single-stream school which by Friday had admitted 82 learners.
During the ongoing Form One admissions, parents have been canvassing to transfer their children from schools they were placed in by the ministry to those that have a record of good performance and with good facilities.
Due to the demand for these schools, there have been allegations that some principals have been selling Form One slots to parents. Mr Indimuli has dismissed the claims.
On fears that congestion would compromise the quality of education, Mr Indimuli said performance depends on the effectiveness of the teaching.