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Education is highly valued in Kenya, with many families making huge sacrifices to send their children to school. The education system has undergone significant changes over time, and many public, private and international schools are available for expats.
Public primary and secondary schools in Kenya are free of charge, but the lack of funding in many schools means a shortage of qualified teachers and limited resources, particularly in rural or impoverished areas. While there are some good government schools in Kenya, especially in major cities, most expats rather opt to enrol their children in private or international schools, which tend to be less disruptive to a child’s education, especially if they're only in Kenya for a short time.
Read on for a breakdown of the education system, nurseries, homeschooling, tutors and special needs learning support in Kenya.
Public schools in Kenya
The standard Kenyan education system consists of eight years of primary school, four years of secondary school and four years of university education.
With the introduction of this system, public school students who complete their primary education receive the Kenya Certificate of Primary Education (KCPE) and those that complete their secondary schooling receive the Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education (KCSE).
There are no fees for primary and secondary education but additional expenses such as uniforms, lunches and stationery are usually required.
Kenyan education is split into:
- Kindergarten: ages 4 to 5
- Primary school: ages 6 to 14
- Secondary school (academic or technical and trade schools): ages 14 to 18
- University: ages 18 and above
After primary school, high performing students can attend national secondary schools, though provincial schools are also available. At secondary level, students can attend an academic school or a technical and trade school.
Academic schools offer a broad scope of subjects grouped into languages, sciences, applied sciences, humanities, creative arts and technical subjects. Kenyan public schools have varying capacities, impacting their resources and what subjects they offer. Still, the core subjects are English, Kiswahili and maths. The language of instruction is English, though Swahili is taken as a compulsory subject throughout primary and secondary schools.
Technical secondary schools give students a more practical approach to learning, preparing them for the workforce. Regardless of the type of school (academic or technical), all secondary school graduates are eligible for university, depending on their grades.
Private schools in Kenya
Private schools in Kenya are a good option, especially for expats from the UK as their systems are similar. The standard of education at Kenya's private schools is superior to its public schools, mainly because of additional funding. Costs vary from one school to another, but basic private education is still cheaper than sending a child to an international school.
Private schools have greater flexibility in the choice of curriculum. Some have religious affiliations and many schools follow Kenya’s national curriculum. International schools are a type of private school and these follow curricula from around the world.
International schools in Kenya
There is a good range of international schools in Kenya, especially in the capital, Nairobi. Expats living in Kenya will find many schools that follow the British curriculum, partially because of the country's historical links with the UK.
To accommodate the growing expat community, there are also schools offering the globally recognised International Baccalaureate or the curricula of countries such as France, Germany, Sweden, America and the Netherlands.
The standard of education in international schools in Kenya is high, with qualified and experienced teachers and greater attention paid to students. Students also have the opportunity to participate in a wide assortment of extra-curricular activities, including sports, drama and music.
On the downside, fees tend to be expensive. On top of basic school fees, expat parents will need to budget for extra expenses such as textbooks, stationery, school uniforms and field trips. Some schools also provide a boarding option, which again comes at an additional cost.
Expats working in Kenya who want to send their child to an international school should budget accordingly and try to negotiate an allowance for school fees into their employment package.
Nurseries in Kenya
Expat parents with young children in Kenya will discover a large pool of nurseries and kindergartens to select from, especially in large cities, such as Nairobi and Mombasa.
Early education is widely agreed to be fundamental for a child's development. Some nurseries and childcare centres are attached to larger international schools and many follow a Montessori-style approach, though bear in mind that some come with heavy fees.
Overall, one of the largest factors determining which nursery to select is its location and its proximity to an expat's accommodation and/or workplace. Nurseries are also great spaces for parents to meet and make friends other expats and parents.
Homeschooling in Kenya
Kenyan law is not clear regarding homeschooling and there is no standard process on how to go about it. Still, this hasn’t stopped determined parents. More and more families believe the mainstream education system is not suited to them and is either under-resourced on the one end or prohibitively expensive on the other.
Social media is one of the best ways to reach out to the homeschooling community in Kenya. Social activities for kids can be organised through these, and parents can find the necessary information and network easily.
Parents can choose a curriculum that works best for them, and some may register their children to take a national or international exam, often at an international or private school to be under the school’s invigilation.
Tutors in Kenya
Whether children are homeschooled or attend a mainstream school in Kenya, extra classes may be desired – especially during exam time. There are several online platforms for finding a tutor in Kenya, including TeacherOn and PigiaMe.
As education systems are evolving worldwide, online learning is increasingly popular, and in some cases necessary, so many tutors may offer services in person and online too.
Special needs education in Kenya
Kenya’s private and international schools are more likely than public schools to provide inclusive support for children with disabilities. Special needs education is not well integrated with the public school system due to a lack of funding and support services.
Children with disabilities have a right to accessible and free basic education in Kenya, and there are schools dedicated to children with distinct needs and disabilities. Embassies also provide lists of recommended schools integrating and including students with learning or physical disabilities.
Expats moving to Kenya should research the private and international school options and contact them directly for information on the standard of services available. This may come in various forms, such as additional learning support sessions or specialised devices adapted for students with hearing or visual problems.
►For a breakdown of education in Kenya's capital city, read Education and Schools in Nairobi
►Have a look at our list of recommended international schools in Nairobi
"Much like choosing a house close to where you work, you may want to choose a school close to where you live, especially if you’re not set on sending your child to a school with your home country’s curriculum. The best is to research the different schools as much as possible online and schedule visits..." Read our interview with Tara for tips on selecting the right school in Kenya.
"For expat children there are many private international schools in the city and surrounding suburbs. Most but not all have British Curriculum, and there are few that have American curriculum." Read more in our interview with Zeynep.
Are you an expat living in Kenya?
Expat Arrivals is looking for locals to contribute to this guide, and answer forum questions from others planning their move to Kenya. Please contact us if you'd like to contribute.
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