THE STATUS, INTERPRETATION AND OPPORTUNITIES FOR GENDER EQUITY IN THE KENYAN EDUCATIONAL SYSTEM

Citation:
Njeru E. "THE STATUS, INTERPRETATION AND OPPORTUNITIES FOR GENDER EQUITY IN THE KENYAN EDUCATIONAL SYSTEM." Norag News, August 1, 2003:61-66.

Issue Date:

August 2003

Abstract:

Education is fundamental to development of human resource capacities for sustainable
economic growth and development. By imparting new skills and knowledge in people,
education expands human capabilities, increases labour productivity and enhances essential
participation and partnerships in nation building. Education is a vital tool in achieving greater
autonomy, empowerment of women and men and addressing gender gaps in the distribution
of opportunities and resources (Muganda, 2002; Muthaka & Mwangi, 2002). More equitable
distribution of opportunities and resources between men and women leads more directly to
higher economic growth and productivity (World Development Report, 2000/2001).
Debate on gender equity in education presently revolves around two universally accepted
declarations or goals, one of them being the Universal Primary Education (UPE)by 2015,
later refocused as Education for All (EFA), as articulated in Jomtien, Thailand, iii 1990 and
reaffirmed at the Dakar (Senegal) World Education Forum in April 2000. Secondly, in
September 2000, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Millennium Declaration
to achieve universal completion of primary schooling and achieve equity in access to primary
and secondary schooling by 2005 and at all levels by 2015.
In a number of countries, efforts have been intensified to bridge the gender education gap.
But achievement of this goal in many parts of the world, and Africa in particular, has been
rather slow. For instance, in 1996 in Amman, Jordan, girls' education was reported to have
made an 'excruciatingly slow" progress, especially in Africa. A follow up EFA assessment in
2000 revealed that in many cases little or no success had been achieved in narrowing the
gender gap in education.
Kenya, since independence, has recognized education as a key sector in the country's socioeconomic
and cultural development. As such, quality education provision and training at all
levels has remained a central policy issue, hence various commissions set up to address the
country's education and training needs. The commissions include the Ominde Commission
(1964); Gachathi Commission (1976); the Presidential Working Party on the Establishment
of the Second Public University (1981), Koech Commission (1999) (FAWE, 2002) and the
recent implementation of free and compulsory primary education policy for all school-going
age children. The Kenya government (GoK) is also signatory to various international and
regional conventions advocating for equity in education.
In Kenya, poor access to education and gender imbalances are largely blamed on prevailing
poverty, poor national economic performance, HIV1AIDS and environmental degradation,
especially in ASALs. Other issues defining the macro context of education in Kenya include
negative attitudes towards schooling, amidst dwindling opportunities, thus de-motivating
parents against sending their children to school; numerous other challenges as indicated by
reduced gross enrolment ratios, high dropout, low completion and transition rates, as well as
regional and gender disparities; in addition to the questions regarding both quality and
relevance.
In addressing the foregoing problems, Kenya has developed several policies including poverty
reduction papers, National Education Master Plan (1997 - 2010). Recently, the country has
embarked on developing provincial EFA plans, for incorporation in Kenya's national EFA plan.
Beyond the policies, there have been efforts related to service provision, including bursaries,
text books, school feeding program, provision of desks and learning aids, teacher training,
campaigns for girls' education, among others.
This paper discusses the status, interpretation and opportunities for gender equity in the
Kenyan educational system, starting with background information at international and
national levels; then conceptual considerations; gender representation at various levels;
opportunities and roles of various stakeholders; some of the constraints and challenges
facing the attainment of gender parity; conclusions and way forward.

1. Introduction
Education is fundamental to development of human resource capacities for sustainable
economic growth and development. By imparting new skills and knowledge in people,
education expands human capabilities, increases labour productivity and enhances essential
participation and partnerships in nation building. Education is a vital tool in achieving greater
autonomy, empowerment of women and men and addressing gender gaps in the distribution
of opportunities and resources (Muganda, 2002; Muthaka & Mwangi, 2002). More equitable
distribution of opportunities and resources between men and women leads more directly to
higher economic growth and productivity (World Development Report, 2000/2001).
Debate on gender equity in education presently revolves around two universally accepted
declarations or goals, one of them being the Universal Primary Education (UPE)by 2015,
later refocused as Education for All (EFA), as articulated in Jomtien, Thailand, iii 1990 and
reaffirmed at the Dakar (Senegal) World Education Forum in April 2000. Secondly, in
September 2000, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Millennium Declaration
to achieve universal completion of primary schooling and achieve equity in access to primary
and secondary schooling by 2005 and at all levels by 2015.
In a number of countries, efforts have been intensified to bridge the gender education gap.
But achievement of this goal in many parts of the world, and Africa in particular, has been
rather slow. For instance, in 1996 in Amman, Jordan, girls' education was reported to have
made an 'excruciatingly slow" progress, especially in Africa. A follow up EFA assessment in
2000 revealed that in many cases little or no success had been achieved in narrowing the
gender gap in education.
Kenya, since independence, has recognized education as a key sector in the country's socioeconomic
and cultural development. As such, quality education provision and training at all
levels has remained a central policy issue, hence various commissions set up to address the
country's education and training needs. The commissions include the Ominde Commission
(1964); Gachathi Commission (1976); the Presidential Working Party on the Establishment
of the Second Public University (1981), Koech Commission (1999) (FAWE, 2002) and the
recent implementation of free and compulsory primary education policy for all school-going
age children. The Kenya government (GoK) is also signatory to various international and
regional conventions advocating for equity in education.
In Kenya, poor access to education and gender imbalances are largely blamed on prevailing
poverty, poor national economic performance, HIV1AIDS and environmental degradation,
especially in ASALs. Other issues defining the macro context of education in Kenya include
negative attitudes towards schooling, amidst dwindling opportunities, thus de-motivating
parents against sending their children to school; numerous other challenges as indicated by
reduced gross enrolment ratios, high dropout, low completion and transition rates, as well as
regional and gender disparities; in addition to the questions regarding both quality and
relevance.
In addressing the foregoing problems, Kenya has developed several policies including poverty
reduction papers, National Education Master Plan (1997 - 2010). Recently, the country has
embarked on developing provincial EFA plans, for incorporation in Kenya's national EFA plan.
Beyond the policies, there have been efforts related to service provision, including bursaries,
text books, school feeding program, provision of desks and learning aids, teacher training,
campaigns for girls' education, among others.
This paper discusses the status, interpretation and opportunities for gender equity in the
Kenyan educational system, starting with background information at international and
national levels; then conceptual considerations; gender representation at various levels;
opportunities and roles of various stakeholders; some of the constraints and challenges
facing the attainment of gender parity; conclusions and way forward.
2. Conceptual considerations on gender and equity in the education sector
Gender is socially constructed, denoting differing social roles for men and women in society
(Muganda, 2002). Gender thus connotes differentials in social relations with respect to
cultural practices, roles, positions, responsibilities, occupations, rights and obligations. Equity
denotes fairness and justice for all. Inequalities do arise from the process of assigning to men
and women, boys and girls, specific social roles, privileges, rights, responsibilities and duties
on the basis of the sexes of the persons concerned. In this process, many African societies
do manifest cultural diversity as exemplified in complex gender driven power relationships
that disadvantage women and girl-children in accessing and benefiting from educational
resources and services. It is largely for this reason that many see focus on gender analysis as
essentially translating into focus on women and girls, in spite of cases in which boys are
themselves disadvantaged in specific aspects of education and opportunities for specific
skills acquisition.
Gender based inequalities largely contribute to lower enrollment of girls, less retention of
those who enroll, poor performance in many subjects, particularly mathematics and sciences
and technical disciplines, and less participation of women in tertiary and higher levels of
learning. These imbalances serve to limit the extent to which women's potentials can be fully
developed as they also cumulatively affect levels and nature of their participation in the labor
market, politics and managerial positions.
3. Gender representation in Kenya's educational institutions
The education system in Kenya comprises the pre-primary, primary, secondary, tertiary
and/or university education. At independence, the country inherited 7-4-2-3 (that is 7 years
of primary schooling; 4 years secondary; 2 years of advanced secondary - forms 5 & 6; and
3 years of university) system of education until the shift to 8-4-4 (that is 8 years primary; 4
years secondary and 4 years university) system of education in 1983. To-date, enrollment at
various levels is generally characterized by gender, regional and income disparities.
3.1 Pre-primary education
The pre-primary education which incorporates and is also referred to as Early Childhood
Development (ECD) offers integrated services that meet the cognitive, social, emotional,
nutritional and overall care of children aged below 6 years. Without a clear government policy
on pre-school education and management functions, this education sub-sector has received
minimal public attention in Kenya, being left mainly the concerns of local governments and
municipalities, communities and individual parents, the private sector interests and nongovernmental
organizations (NGOs), hence not much analytical and recent data is available.
3.2 Primary education
In 2000, the National Gross Enrollment Rates (GER) in primary education was 87.6%,
increasing marginally to 91.%in 2001, before declining to 90.8% in 20002. As indicated in
Table 1, enrollment in standard one increased by 2.4%, from 970,900 in 2001 to 994,500
in 2002. In 2002, the enrolment across the classes shows some gender imbalance, the
highest discrepancy being in standard 8. For the boys, the transition rate -from standard 4 in
1998 to standard 8 in 2002 was 79.4%, while that for girls was 75.0%. Conversely, the
survival rates for the girls who joined standard 1 in 1998 to class 5 was 81.1 %, compared to
77.2% for boys. A total of 514,350 candidates sat for the Kenya Certificate of Primary
Education (KCPE) in 2002 with 47.5% being girls, compared to the 480,996 registered in
2001. Although the GER indicates a positive rise, it obscures the full extent of the challenges
facing education. For example, of the children who enroll in primary schools in Kenya, girls in
particular do not stay long enough to complete the cycle. The completion rates in the last
five years at this level have remained at 47% mark.
Figure 1 shows the trend in GER for boys and girls between 1998 and 2002, indicating
clearly that the GER for girls is considerably lower than that of boys, This inequality is
explained in terms of preference for educating boys rather than girls in some cultures and
use of girls in domestic child labor, and negative attitudes associated with girls' education.
3.3 Secondary school education
There has been a marked increase in secondary school enrolment in quantitative terms since
independence for both boys and girls (see Table 2). At independence, for example, there
were 20,553 boys and 9,567 girls as compared to 447,203 and 400.,,064 boys and girls,
respectively during the year 2002. The proportion of girls increased more rapidly than that
of boys. Girls, at independence, comprised 31 .8% of total student population, increasing to
47.2% in 2002.
3.4 Tertiary and University education
Generally, there is a near-gender parity in enrollment, retention, completion and progression
rates for both boys and girls at primary and secondary school education levels. However, the
gender paradox begins when girls complete secondary education and enter university and
other tertiary institutions. On student enrolment in primary teacher training colleges by sex
(see Figure 3), the trends indicate minimal disparities in student enrolments. During 2002,
for instance, the colleges admitted 15,730 trainees, with females constituting 47.4%.
Public university education is, however, characterized by a big gap in enrolments in favour of
male students (see figure 4 above). This is in contrast to private universities, which have
relatively higher female student enrolments. In 2002, for example, female students
constituted 52.5% of the total enrolment in private universities. Arguments have however
also been advanced to the effect that the females are still less able to effectively compete
with males for entry into the public universities which are financially more affordable but also
more difficult to enter due to the high cut-off entry points as a strategy to deal with the
large applicant numbers. Consequently many good females but below the public university
cut-off points end up joining the less competitive private universities where qualification for
admission and ability to pay are equally important. Another reason advanced as to why more
girls than boys join private universities is that these private institutions, due to the
prohibitive cost of equipment that would otherwise be required to install the facilities needed
for natural and biological sciences, including medicine (and thus charge prohibitive fees to
offset some of the costs to ensure operational viability), choose to offer more of humanities
and social sciences which are less equipment intensive, and also allow the institutions to
charge moderately affordable fees to attract more students, for their financial viability.
As such, the students who want to do science-based courses, such as engineering and
medicine, must pass well enough to secure places at the public universities and leave the
arts based courses at the private universities to the women.
4. Opportunities and roles of key stakeholders
Achievement of gender equity in education in Kenya will require collaborative participation of
learners (boys and girls), parents, communities, development partners, the civil society,
private sector and the government:
Learners: For this actor category, there is need to demystify mathematics and science
subjects hitherto viewed as masculine subjects. Career development and counseling tutors at
institutional levels also need to tailor their attitudes more positively towards gender sensitive
study orientations to complement the guidance and aspirations imparted by other
stakeholders.
Parents and community: The key issue here pertains to addressing socio-cultural and
societal orientations that are responsible for gender differences in performance, e.g. with
regard to the gendered division of labour, child up-bringing, adult reactions to children's
needs, based on gender differences. Improving the quality of learners is essential for both
boys and girls to be healthy, well nourished, ready to learn and supported by their families
and communities.
Development partners, civil society and private sector: Their support is essential
in formulation of gender sensitive education policies and provision of basic education in
hardship areas.
The Government: A key role for the government would be to facilitate formulation of
gender-sensitive policies and mediation for more inclusive science and technology. Other
responsibilities would have to do with provision of adequate funds to support basic and
quality education through good governance and management, supervision, and production of
well trained gender sensitive teachers. The school environment should be healthy, safe,
protective, effective and conducive t.o gender mainstreaming.
5. Major challenges and constraints
Achievement of gender parity in education in Kenya faces, among others, the following major
challenges and constraints:
Socio-cultural orientations in societies that inculcate gender differences
in performance. Boys and girls undergo different cultural orientations regarding birth
ceremonies and later on division of labor in productive and domestic chores, based on
gender stereotyped artifacts such as clothes and toys, games and play within the
context of the overall preparation and skills training for adult roles.
Cognitive styles that characterize gender performance in learning
mathematics and science subjects. This has to do with the mismatch
characterizing success or failure in mathematics and science subjects, i.e. between
reflective and impulsive, holist and serialist styles as well as between field-dependence
and field-independence with regard to styles of thinking and learning (Costelo, 1991).
The HIV/ AIDS scourge. This pandemic has led to increased school dropouts,
especially for girls who are faced with increased domestic responsibilities when family
members are ailing or succumb to the pandemic. The overall effect has been reduction
of opportunities for further learning and skills development, in many cases skewed
against girls.
Poverty issues: These should be addressed as they generally impede access to
education. Girls are more affected than boys in situations where choices have to be made
on whether to take boys or girls to school.
August 2003 NORRAG NEWS Page 66
Gender-insensitive policies: The policies in question are seen to be either
ambivalent or per'missive to discontinuation of girls from school as seen, for example, in the
cases of teenage pregnancies, which cause girls to drop out of school and perhaps not given
a chance to resume studies after baby delivery. In some cases the public attitudes are
themselves punitive and not conducive to creation of opportunities to allow the postteenage
mothers to go back to school.
6. Conclusions and way forward
The Kenya government is signatory to various international and regional declarations and
conventions advocating for equality and equity in education. To-date, the GoK is working on
various key issues and concerns to ensure gender equity and possibly equality in skills
training, education and other affirmative action towards to empowerment of girls and
women. It is however generally important to consider gender performance at primary and
secondary education levels, independently as a goal. This should be accomplished with a
view to critically. allowing room to focus, among other concerns, on access to the job market,
parliamentary and other substantive livelihood granting opportunities'after secondary
education. For girls, education does not automatically translate into jobs and income
generating opportunities, empowerment or other forms of social capital. The status quo is
largely blamed on under-representation of girls and women in scientific and technological
fields, in itself a product of socio-cultural ethos, orientations and gender-insensitive policies.
In order to address the imbalances in question or to mitigate their consequences and
implications for socio-economic development, there is need to:
Review and incorporate lessons learnt on the causes and consequences of underrepresentation
of girls and women in science and technology during the pre-service
and/or in-service training and professional development of educators and counselors;
Promote awareness and understanding of the full range of career choices among female
and male students;
Review the contents of mathematics, science and technology course textbooks, activities
and other learning materials, with a view to undertaking revisions, where necessary, to
ensure incorporation of strategies that facilitate ease of uptake on the part of the
females;
Enhance sensitization of parents and communities, through public' awareness campaigns
and other communication strategies on the value of girls' education, with a view to
minimizing the impact of the practices that militate against it;
Elimination of conflict between the institutional practices, structural values and attitude
positions between school and home, which act against optimal access to and utilization
of skills development opportunities by the females, with the overall effect of alienating
the girl-child from education and essential life skills development..
References
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women's world 2002, July 2002, Makerere University, Kampala-Uganda
FAWE (2000): The ABC of Gender Response Education Policies; Guidelines for developing
Education for all action plans. FAWE.
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Muthaka D. and Mwangi, S.K (2002). The Role of University Education in Socio-Economic
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