Concern as top schools choke due to overpopulation

Students and parents during form one admission at Metkei Girls High School in Keiyo South

Students and parents during form one admission at Metkei Girls High School in Keiyo South, Elgeyo Marakwet County on February 6, 2023. 

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

Kabianga High, Kenya’s most sought-after national school as of 2023, is one of the most populated secondary institutions with about 3,000 students.

“It is like a big political rally,” said a parent who spoke to us in confidence.

In the Kericho-based academic giant, a third of the population consists of Form Ones who are distributed across 16 streams, one of the highest so far according to our sample. Each class hosts close to 70 pupils as opposed to the 45 recommended by the Ministry of Education guidelines.

Overpopulation is a constant cause of worry for parents.

“It’s a tragedy waiting to happen. Think about what could happen in case of a stampede or fire,” a Form One parent, who also requested anonymity to avoid victimisation, said. “We’re also worried that communicable diseases could break out due to insufficient water.”

Mr Cheruiyot Kurgat, the Chief Principal, said the 930 Form Ones pushed the streams from 12 to 16, the highest since the inception of the institution. He however believes that despite being strained, the school is meeting the needs of its students even as plans to expand the facility continue.

“Kabianga was one of the most sought after school with 153,000 Form One applicants. We require two more dormitories with a capacity to accommodate 400 students each and we require four more classrooms,” Mr Kurgat said, adding that the institution requires additional classrooms, two laboratories, and expansion of the library and dining hall. Students currently eat in shifts.

He said the school has adequate supply of water as it has a borehole, while extra toilets are required. A soak pit has been put up to guard against outbreak of water borne diseases.

The story of congestion and overstretched facilities is not unique to Kabianga. Our candid conversations with education stakeholders, and visit to schools in various counties, paints a picture of institutions bursting at the seams to accommodate much more than their capacity and ensure 100 per cent transition from primary schools, with the 2023 intake having been the highest yet.

From sleeping in dining halls and stores, to skipping showers due to insufficient water, sitting in overpopulated classrooms and having small portions of food, students are paying the price for a good cause that has been implemented shoddily.

Mr Ronald Tonui, the Kenya Union of Post Primary Education Teachers (Kuppet) national assistant treasurer, said the most affected learning institutions are national schools. He said the schools’ facilities are overstretched and understaffed, and that there are health concerns for the students.

Litein Boys, Pangani Girls’, Machakos Boys, Maseno Boys, Kisumu Boys, Tenwek High, Siongiroi Girls’, Nyangori Boys and Lions High in Kisumu are some of the schools we visited.

Pangani Girls in Nairobi, which admitted double the number of Form One students its capacity can hold, has a serious water and accommodation problem. The school has converted a store and common room (social hall) into dormitories to shelter the surging number of students.

The problem with the timber-walled store is poor circulation of air that parents, who we won’t name to avoid setting up their children for victimisation, say is unfit for habitation.

“Imagine some students wake up in the night to go catch a breath of fresh air outside. That is preposterous.” one parent said.

The small building, which used to safeguard items such as brooms, is now home to 10 students who prefer to have its window shut at all times for their privacy.

Pangani School Principal Florence Ngarari, however, said the building is conducive.

“The building meets quality assurance and is well aerated. It is in the school plan to build more dormitories but we have a challenge with resources,” she told Sunday Nation on phone, adding that the board has embarked on construction of classes.

The biting water problem in the popular school located in the capital city is a serious health concern that forces students to go without taking a bath for days.

“We spend a lot of time queuing for water, but not all of us end up getting it. Those who miss are forced to do whatever it takes to get some, so they steal from other students. Avoiding baths is not strange in our school,” a student, said. The school is struggling to feed the 1,700 student population which go for meals in shifts in the small dining hall constructed 35 years ago.

According to Ms Ngarari, the school has 300 students more than its capacity.

She also said that the school now has sufficient water since a borehole was sunk to supplement city council water supply.

Mr Richard Sang, the Principal of Litein High in Kericho County, said they have 1,900 students against a capacity of 1,600. They require a new dormitory and 32 toilets.

“We also need to expand the laboratory to accommodate 1,000 students and a multipurpose hall with a sitting capacity of 2,500 people,” he said.

Tenwek Boys’, a national school in Bomet County, had 2,374 students using an old sewage system meant for 800 learners, Principal Mutali Chesebe said.

“We have 13 temporary classrooms and we require 30 more pit latrines as the modern toilets are not enough,” he said.

The school pumps water from the nearby Chepkulo River for use by the learners.

To cope with the high number of enrolment, Maseno School has been forced to set up 15 streams for each of the four classes with up to 60 students per class, up from the initial 35 students.

Deputy Principal Peter Nyawach said that the school population has increased to 2,928, prompting them to introduce triple-decker beds and put up three more dormitories.

“It is a struggle. The population is big already, yet the number keeps increasing every year. Most parents want their students admitted to top schools, but the challenge is having enough facilities,” he said, adding that the school has worked to ensure the boys have enough sanitation facilities, with three sources of clean water and a latrine ratio higher than one latrine for every 30 students recommended by the World Health Organisation.

Kisumu-based Lions High Principal Eudiah Oyier says that the 2,084 learners in the day school share only 36 latrines, with 20 serving girls and 16 for boys, putting the students’ health at risk.

“We have a deficit of 36 latrines,” she said. “We need the facilities for health reasons and for the comfort of our learners.”

Ms Oyier said the learners held a walk last week to raise Sh24 million to put up six laboratories as the school has been struggling with two facilities.

The Principal of Nyang’ori Boys extra-county school with 2,000 students in Vihiga, Mr Ibrahim Kugo, said they are struggling and in need of more facilities.

They constructed three new classrooms at the beginning of last term, but that addressed only part of the infrastructural needs. “We still need laboratories, dormitories and libraries,” said Mr Kugo.

Kisumu County Kuppet Executive Secretary Zablon Awange said that the Situation in Kisumu schools is no different from the rest of the country, with boarding schools having congested dormitories and in some cases, students share beds.

“The challenges are coupled by the fact that the government delays in remission of free primary education and free day secondary education funds,” said Mr Awange, adding that “the school heads are forced to devise ways to cope with the huge population and scarce resources, leading to compromised sanitation,”.

The death of three students and a teacher due to water contamination in Mukumu Girls in Kakamega County has created fear among students and parents across the country, especially in crowded schools where communicable diseases can easily spread.

The Kuppet secretary notes that with occasional flooding and water shortages in Kisumu, a number of students are at risk of contracting diseases. He called for an inspection of boarding and day schools.

“The government must release funds on time before schools reopen to help principals prepare accordingly or else we might end up the Mukumu way,” said Mr Awange.

However, Mr Ben Arwasa who is the Teachers’ Service Commission TSC sub-county director for Ugenya in Siaya County, said that although schools are congested, there is no cause for alarm.

“It is true there’s congestion, but not so much to warrant a lot of worries because the classrooms which were meant for Grade Seven learners have alleviated the congestion in secondary schools. It would have been really chaotic if the Grade Seven students were hosted in secondary schools as earlier envisaged,” he said.

Mr Tonui, who is a former Bomet Central Member of Parliament, said the government should channel more funds and post a high number of teachers to day schools so as to attract best performing students.

The craze for joining national schools should be controlled and the government should change the policy to channel between Sh25 and Sh50 million annually to national schools.

“There is a need for capacity building for teachers in boarding schools on hospitality services to ensure high standards of hygiene are maintained. The teachers should also be paid boarding schools allowances to motivate them go an extra mile in management of the facilities,” said the Kuppet national assistant treasurer.

He said the inspectorate department in the counties should conduct regular inspections of the sewage systems as education officers who currently undertake the role were not competent in that area.

“Water, Health and Sewage Services are devolved functions and as such, county governments should provide clean water to schools, assign a nurse or clinical officer to boarding schools and install quality infrastructural systems for functional sewage disposal,” Mr Tonui said.

Mr Malel Langat, the Knut National Executive Council (NEC) member, said national and county governments should jointly address the sanitation, health and infrastructure issues in schools with ballooning number of learners as a result of the 100 per cent transition from one level to the other.

“In the South Rift for example, as a matter of urgency, the national and county governments should come to the rescue of schools like Tenwek Boys’, Kaplong boys’, Kaplong Girls, Kipsigis Girls,’ Kericho Boys’ and Singiroi Girls’ to address the challenges so as to curb outbreak of diseases,” Mr Langat said.

Reporting By Anita Chepkoech, Vitalis Kimutai, Derick Luvega and Angela Ochieng