In Kenya, Primary education is in essence the first phase of formal education system. It usually starts at six years of age and runs for eight years. The main purpose of primary education is to prepare children to participate fully in the social, political and economic well being of the pupils. The new primary school curriculum has therefore been designed to provide a more functional and practical education to cater for the needs of children who finish their education at the primary school level and also for those who wish to continue with secondary education.
Prior to independence, primary education was almost exclusively the responsibility of the communities concerned or non governmental agencies such as local church groups. Since independence the government has gradually taken over the administration of primary education from local authorities and assumed a greater share of the financial cost in line with the political commitment to provide equal educational opportunities to all through the provision of free primary education.
Almost all primary schools in the country are now in the public sector and depend on the Government for their operational expenses. The Government provides teachers and meets their salaries. Government expenditure on school supplies and equipment are minimal as these are financed by fees levied on parents by Parent Teacher Associations. In addition responsibility for the construction and maintenance of schools and staff housing is shouldered by the parents. Indeed almost all primary schools built and equipped after independence have initially been the result of harambee or self-help efforts.
There has been a remarkable expansion in primary education, both in terms of the number of schools established and in the number of children enrolled, over the past three decades. At independence, there were 6,056 primary schools with a total enrolment t of 891,600 children. At the same time, trained teachers numbered 92,000. In 1990 there were over 14,690 primary schools, with an enrolment of slightly over five million children and with nearly 200,000 trained teachers respectively.
In addition to the expansion in the number of primary students enrolled, there has been a significant improvement in the participation of girls in education. At independence, only about a third of the enrolment in primary schools were girls. By 1990 the proportion of girls had risen to nearly 50 per cent. Educating women contributes significantly to many other desirable objectives, such as reducing the rate of population growth.
The government of Kenya recognizes that provision of universal primary education as an important milestone to economic and social development. In particular it has been established that by providing primary education to women, a society is able to hasten its development. The government, since January 2003 has managed to implement free primary school education programme that has seen a tremendous increase in the number of children attending school.
The Government has also increased its budgetary allocation to education as well as introducing a Constituency Bursary Fund for efficient facilitation of education at the grassroots level. The implementation of the Universal Free Primary Education, as part of the Millenium Development Goals (MDGs), has earned Kenya the prestigious Education Award