Kenya High Schools: Reversing the Quota System in Admission

Published on 17th January 2014

Pupils in class                                     Photo courtesy
On 2nd January 2014 the Ministry of Education released the Form One Selection Guidelines to be used for pupils who sat for the Kenya Certificate of Primary Education (KCPE) in 2013. The guidelines are still heavily steeped in favour of the Quota-System and have one major deficiency; the failure to appreciate the important role played by high school education in nation building and national cohesion. High School is a very critical stage in the life of every person. Most of the things people learn in High School stick in the mind; for life.

It is in high school that a young Kenyan born and bred in Murang’a will most likely have his first encounter with people from the Turkana, Pokot, Teso, Orma/Wardei, Rendille, Borana and Kuria communities. Previously he will only have heard and read of these communities from history books. In high school he will also learn that Maragoli is not the name for all Abaluhya speakers; that Nandi is not synonymous with Kalenjin; that Meru people fall into several sub-groups and that whereas the Samburu and the Maasai share the Maa dialect, they have some innate differences. It is at that stage that he will get to know the importance of a separate prayer room for his classmates who are Muslims and also understand the reason why his Hindu classmates need to travel to the nearest town on certain days.

High School teaches young people to appreciate and respect the religious, cultural, linguistic and ethnic diversity in their country. They cultivate and acquire great life-time friends from virtually every corner of the country if not the world. Most of the biases and prejudices that affect their world view later in life are either acquired or shed off at this stage in life. And this is why we need to critically examine the Quota-system criteria in High School admission.

It is very likely that the most virulent tribalists in Parliament, Public Service, Public Universities, Private Sector and Social Media spent their formative years in District Schools and nondescript Provincial Schools where they hardly interacted with people from other ethnic, cultural and religious backgrounds. That is where their skills of propagating negative ethnicity were horned. Not even University/College education can change these bigots. But  we cannot don’t blame them; they are products of an ill-conceived and poorly executed system which balkanizes young people into their villages and home districts, sometimes for life! Yes, we now have Universities in almost every district and somebody can even acquire a PhD without leaving his/her village or District!

Add the reality of County Governments in the mix and you have a situation where some Kenyans can end up schooling and working in their home districts in their entire life-time. Such a scenario is not only possible, but is extremely dangerous to nation building and inimical to national cohesion. The Quota-system was drafted by policy makers at the Headquarters of the Ministry of education in the mid-1980s. Those old drafters of the Quota-System could hardly communicate in neutral English and/or Swahili and their public speeches were heavily accentuated by mother-tongue influence. They simply could not think outside the box! Our country is already paying a very heavy price in the form of wide-spread negative ethnicity all because of this policy. 

We cannot continue applying Quota-System in High School admission and expect to eradicate negative ethnicity. In the past educationists and politicians used to blame former President Daniel T. Arap Moi for the quota system but it is now more than 10 years since he left office and nothing has changed. Interestingly although the Ministry of Education is now managed by new people; career educationists but the quota system remains. The new managers know that high school students’ own outlook and world view is greatly enriched by attending high school far away from their villages and having schoolmates from all parts of Kenya. They also know it is a shame that a Kenyan can now study in the village right from nursery school to university but are unwilling to use their positions of influence to change this “villagisation” policy.

The “Digital” Government of President Uhuru Kenyatta and his Deputy William Ruto should reverse this policy now and ensure that we revert back to the pre-1985 admission criteria. The system then ensured that all high schools admitted students from every part of Kenya. That a girl from Othaya could be admitted to Matuga Girls High School, a boy from Migori to Thika High School, a boy from Tinderet to Machakos High School and a boy from Chogoria to Kapsabet High School. This can start now, with the impending high school admission for 2014.

Everything has a beginning. Aren’t we starting to give Primary 1 pupils lap-tops now? Let us kill the Quota-system too!

By Capt. (Rtd) Collins Wanderi,

Advocate, Commissioner for Oaths, Notary Public and Chair, Kenya Institute of Forensic Auditors (KeIFA).


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