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publicationJune 7, 2022

Kenya Economic Update: Lessons from Kenya’s Education Reforms

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  • June 2022
Lessons from Kenya’s Education Reforms

The Nairobi Central Business District. 

Photo: Sarah Farhat/World Bank


  • The latest World Bank economic analysis for the country highlights the success of education reforms, and recommendations for continued improvement
  • Kenya provides education services for over 16 million children and youth, with almost 500,000 teachers distributed in close to 90,000 schools
  • The education system is also expanding to accommodate more students, especially in pre-school and post-primary education

NAIROBI, June 7, 2021—Kenya’s education sector has improved quickly, despite disruption by COVID-19 (coronavirus). Before the pandemic, the government embarked on ambitious reforms which sought to improve the quality of education through several approaches; a competency-based curriculum (CBC), reforming professional teacher development, textbook policy, and management practices at the local level.

These reforms have made Kenya a top education performer in Eastern and Southern Africa, according to the Kenya Economic Update, Edition 25: Aiming High, Securing Education to Sustain Recovery. The report outlines the key messages from the new World Bank Public Expenditure Review (PER) in basic education and highlights Kenya’s impressive achievements, challenges, and the way forward.  

The report notes that Kenya’s real gross domestic product (GDP) is projected to grow by 5.5% in 2022 and 5.2% on average in 2023–24, a moderation following a remarkable recovery in 2021 from the worst economic effects of the pandemic. Education will need additional resources from this economic growth even while the country continues to recover from COVID-19, reduce inequities and expand the system and implement ambitious in a context of fiscal consolidation.  

“Learning remains one of the most critical assets for any country to promote equitable growth and poverty reduction, and that cannot happen without a solid foundation,” said Pedro Cerdan-Infantes, World Bank Senior Economist. “While the Education sector faces treacherous sources of inequality including uneven quality and results, Kenya has embarked on ambitious reforms to address the quality issues rather than considering the job done by virtue of near-universal access and coverage.”

Kenya Economic Update: Lessons from Kenya’s Education Reforms
Kenya’s education sector is recovering from the COVID-19 crisis after years of impressive improvements in outcomes, while implementing ambitious reforms that started before the pandemic. Between 2017 and 2019, the number of pre-primary schools increased by 11 percent and the number of secondary schools by 17 percent. – Photo: Festo Lang, World Bank

Top education performer in Eastern and Southern Africa

Primary education is reaching universal levels while secondary school enrolment increased by over 50% in the seven years before the pandemic. These achievements have resulted directly from increased spending and enrolment at all levels, as well as consistent improvements in learning outcomes before the pandemic.

Performance also improved in numeracy (mathematics) and languages (English and Kiswahili). For example, performance in Class Three mathematics, English and Kiswahili improved in 2016 and 2018. Minimum requirement satisfaction increased by 6% in numeracy,16% in English, and 6% in Kiswahili. Regionally, Kenya is outstanding in reading, the report notes. Numeracy dropped in 2018 against neighboring countries, however, early grade mathematics assessments between 2015 and 2021 improved from 71% in 2016, to 80% in 2021 in secondary schools. Final secondary examinations (KCSE) performance improved from 11% in 2017 to 18% in 2021.

According to the report, these improvements resulted from sustained high spending on education. Expenditure has reached international benchmarks, both as a share of total government expenditure (TGE) and as a share of gross domestic product (GDP). TGE as a share of GDP reached 5.3% in 2018, higher than the average for other lower middle-income and upper middle-income countries, except for South Africa. The share of the government budget on education also increased, reaching 19% in 2020. Education spending per capita is also relatively high compared to countries in the region, which the report highlights is a key factor in quality education.

Despite these gains, challenges abound. Kenya has huge regional inequalities in all education outcomes. While most counties exceed 12 expected years of school, very low outcomes are concentrated in a few counties in the north and northeast of the country, in arid and semi-arid areas with EYS as low as 6.5 years. Only Nairobi County is near completing 12 years of Learning Adjusted Years of School (LAYS).

Education outcomes are much lower in rural areas and for lower income populations. Net enrollement rates (NER) are significantly higher in pre-primary, primary and secondary education, for children from households in the top 20% of income distribution, when compared to the bottom 20%.

Compounded by the pandemic, these challenges have led to learning losses and deepened inequalities in education. Around 17 million students and more than 320,000 teachers were affected by the closure of 30,000 primary and secondary schools in 2020. Schools gradually reopened from October 2020 to January 2021. Efforts to provide remote learning revealed a significant digital divide, with over 50% of the students being left out, mainly due to lack of appropriate electronic devices, access to electricity and internet connectivity.

The report proposes several policy recommendations centred on adequacy, equity and efficiency in resource use as the school system prepares to expand to accommodate more students, especially in pre-k and post-primary education. Continued and accelerated improvements in the sector will depend on:

  • Adequate resources to achieve sector objectives and implement ambitious reforms by protecting spending in the short-term
  • Prioritizing actions and mobilizing additional resources in the medium term
  • Allocating resources more equitably, particularly development spending, teachers and school capitation grants
  • Using resources efficiently by exploiting data more effectively in management, particularly at the local level, as well as improving coordination and reducing fragmentated management of the sector