8-4-4 System of Education in Kenya

8-4-4 System of Education in Kenya

The monumental event in the education terrain between 1983 and 1993, is the birth of the 8-4-4 System of Education in Kenya, its planning, launching, implementation and challenges.

It is also a narrative of how structural adjustment programmes (SAPs), initiated by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund as Well as the donor fatigue, and ignited a series of economic and political reforms that impacted negatively on educational progress in Kenya.

Whereas the first 10 years of independence could be described as a golden era, marked with an impressive record of economic development and credible gains in education, the third decade of independence was a lost decade characterized by a Wide range of internal and external political problems that eroded most of educational progress made in the first two decades of independence.

Education underwent two major shocks that resulted to massive decline in enrollments in primary education. The first occurred between 1984 and 1985 as a result of the introduction of the 8-4-4 system of education and its attendant costs of learning resources and facilities.

The second shock between 1989 and 1990 was also economically motivated. It was as a result of introduction of the cost sharing policy in education. Both changes led to sharp increase in the cost of attending school and triggered decline in primary school enrollments.

In 1982, the country went through the abortive military coup that put university education in a spin after the Government closed the University of Nairobi for 14 months as a punishment for support of the rebel soldiers by a section of students and staff. The sour relationship between the State and the academia, represented by students and staff at the University of Nairobi continued almost in the next 10 years, marked by massive crackdown of lecturers and students perceived to be anti-government. The situation led to the near neglect of the university, resulting in persistent student riots and strikes.

However, it was during this period that Moi University was established and paved the way for elevation of Kenyatta University College and Egerton University College, which were constituent colleges of the University of Nairobi, into full university status.

Cost-sharing in university education was also introduced as it was recommended by the Bretton Woods institutions in their structural adjustment programmes.

Adoption of 8-4-4 System of Education in Kenya

But the most significant issue was the adoption of the current 8-4-4 system of education in Kenya that has eight years of primary education, four years of secondary education and four years of university education. Although vocational education was recognized as the linchpin of the 8-4-4 system of education, it was felt there was need to prolong the primary education segment to enable school-leavers at that level to be mature enough to enter into the labour market.

The radical changes that were introduced to provide pre vocational and technical education to the pupils increased pressure on existing learning facilities. There arose the need for Workshops and home-science classrooms and the financial responsibility to provide those facilities was placed on parents, school committees and the local community served by the school. The burden to provide new textbooks also increased.

The extended curriculum increased the opportunity cost of schooling as pupils had to spend more time in school. Consequently, the doubling of primary school subjects, the additional time required to study and the financial needs for constructing new buildings between 1984-85 is estimated to have increased the cost of attending primary school by more than 100 per cent.

The new system also increased the burden on teachers and students with limited learning facilities. Nevertheless, the main drawback hinged on the system being burdensome to students as it required a lot of textbooks and other learning facilities, while most teachers were not adequately trained to teach some of the vocational and pre-technical subjects.

So in 1992, the 8-4-4 system of education was reviewed with some subjects being dropped.

Policies and Legal Frameworks

The Presidential Working Party on Education and Manpower Training for the Next decade and Beyond (the Kamunge Commission) start edits work in 1986. Chaired by James M. Kamunge, the team publishedits final report in 1988. Its members were:

  • James M. Kamunge (chairman)
  • Prof Bethwel A. Ogot (vice chairperson)
  • Dr Benjamin E. Kipkori
  • Prof Philip M. Mbithi
  • Solomon W. Karanja
  • Dr Julia A. Ojiambo
  • Jared B. Kangwana
  • Samwel S. Maneno
  • Ambrose A. Odongo
  • Rev John G. Gatu
  • Bishop Raphel Ndingimwana a’Nzeki
  • Tom D. Owour
  • Ben E. Mwangi
  • Aron K. Kandie
  • John W. Githuku
  • Benjamin K. Kipkulei
  • Elaine N. Mukuru (Secretary)

The team recommended in-service courses for school inspectors, who would also be required to upgrade their academic and professional qualifications.It recommended payment of full boarding and feeding fees for students in public schools, training institutes and universities.

The team proposed the scrapping of personal allowances given by the Government to students in colleges and universities, establishment of more day secondary schools to expand access and recruitment of qualified personnel for pre-schools.The team proposed compulsory primary education and called for the abolishing of categorization of schools as high and low cost.

Secondary schools developed and equipped by the Government and with teachers paid from public funds were to be designated as public schools.University education was to be expanded to produce more professionally qualified graduates for secondary school education. Untrained primary teachers were to get in-service training.

The Kamunge team Wanted Bachelor of Education programmes in universities to take five years,growth in university standard enrollment be matched with the educational resources and the development of public universities be coordinated and harmonized.It also proposed admission of day university students and the creation of the Kenya Education Staff Institute.

The Kamunge Report was acted on almost to the letter by the Government, altering the financing of education and relieving the Government part of the burden of financing education.

A major impact of the implementation of the Kamunge report was the rise in the cost of education for parents and guardians, resulting in high drop out rates and persistent repetition of classes.

8-4-4 System of Education in Kenya – Primary Education

In this decade, enrollment in primary schools rose from 4.3 million in 1983 to 5.4 million in 1993. Enrollment, however, dropped by 1.8 percent in 1993 as in the previous year, it had stood at 5.5 million, which was the highest figure in that decade.

By then the gains that were realized, with the introduction of the Second Free Primary Education Were steadily eroded with introduction of the 8-4-4 system of education. Whereas 890,000 pupils had enrolled in Standard 1 in 1983, only 384,500 sat the KCPE in 1990, a dropout of about 60 per cent of the initial enrollment.

Dropout rates were highest in the lower primary, while repetition rates were recorded in upper primary classes. The average transition rate from Standard 7 to Standard 8 from 1987-1993 was 70 per cent. However, the number of primary schools increased from 11,955 in 1983 to 15,804 in 1993, while the number of primary teachers colleges rose from 17 to 25 during the same period.

8-4-4 System of Education in Kenya – Secondary Education

The first batch of the 8~4—4 systemof education sat KCSE in 1989, theyear that the last group sat theKenya Advanced Certificate of Education exam. The two groups were considered for university entry in1990.

Amid plans to restructure the education system, the Kenya Junior Secondary Education (KJSE), an examination sat mostly by harambee school students at Form 2 was abolished in 1985. The Kenya Certificate of Education (KCE) was done for the last time in 1987, paving the way for Kenya certificate of Secondary Education (KCSE) in 1989.

Enrolment in secondary schools climbed from 494,000 students in 1983 to 531,342 in 1993. The number of secondary schools also increased from 2,230 in 1983 to 2,639 in 1993. However, in 1990, the Government took a bold decision to integrate all Harambee secondary schools into the national public secondary education system.

By 1989, harambee schools made up about 30 per cent of secondary schools in the country and the Government was under pressure to fulfil one of its promises of providing equitable distribution of education resources under the guidelines of the 8-4-4 system.

The Government decreed in 1990 that all unaided harambee schools were eligible to receive government assistance. A new classification of secondary schools was initiated and the harambee category was dropped altogether.

The national schools category was retained while most of the assisted schools were renamed as provincial schools and the rest, including the unaided harambee schools, were re classified as district schools. But the most important development was the integration of harambee schools into the public secondary school education system with government support in the form of teachers and regular supervision.

St Kizito Mixed Secondary School tragedy

School strikes took a tragic turn in 1991 when 19 girls at St Kizito Mixed Secondary School, Meru, died in an attack by the boys. In the attack that caused national and international outrage, more than 70 girls were raped after declining to participate in a strike organized by the boys. The male students retaliated by invading the girls’ dormitory. The school was temporarily closed and has since been renamed St Cyprian Secondary School.

8-4-4 System of Education in Kenya – Technical and Vocational Education

Vocational education was institutionalized in the curriculum with introduction of the 8-4-4 system of education.

Whereas several pre-vocational subjects were introduced in primary education, a raft of vocational and pre-technical subjects were introduced in secondary schools, such as agriculture, business studies, computer studies, home science and industrial education (building and construction, electricity metalwork, drawing and design, power mechanics, woodwork and aviation technology).

The objective was to prepare high school graduates for the world of work and provide a foundation for further training in relevant post- secondary training institutions.

By the early 1990s, demands for the review of the 8-4-4 system of education, and more so its prevocational component in primary schools, increased.

The main complaint was that the need for home science classrooms and workshops increased the cost of education. Further, few teachers were ready or trained to teach vocational skills.

Subsequently, most schools have dropped the vocational subjects, which are offered as options.

8-4-4 System of Education in Kenya  – Post-Secondary Technical Education

Although there were problems in vocational education offered in primary and secondary schools, enrollment in post-secondary technical institutions remained stable.

By 1993, the three national polytechnics, Kenya Polytechnic, Eldoret Polytechnic and Mombasa Polytechnic, had 9,000 students in various fields.

The 18 technical institutes also had a total of 7, 891 students, while the 17 institutes of technology had a combined enrollment of 5,281 students.

8-4-4 System of Education in Kenya – Expansion of University Education

The third decade of independence is quite significant in the development of university education in Kenya. In 1981, President Daniel Arap Moi had appointed the Presidential Working Party on the Second University in Kenya under the chairmanship of Prof Colin B. Mackay to prepared etailed plans of a new university in the country.

Although the committee finished its work the same year and came up with a blueprint of a new university, it was not until 1984 that Moi University was set up. In addition to recommending establishment of Moi University, Mackay Reporturged the Government to elevate Kenyatta University College, which was a constituent college of the University of Nairobi into a full-fledged university.

By 1993, Kenya had four public universities, University of Nairobi, Moi University, Kenyatta University and Egerton University. There were also two university colleges, Jomo Kenyatta University College of Agriculture and Technology, a constituent college of Kenyatta and Maseno University College, a constituent college of Moi. A brief history of the established universities during the third decade of independence is as follows:

Moi University

Although Mackay’s, committee issued its report on September 1981,it was not until 1984 when the Moi University Act received presidential assent and saw the Department of Forestry of the University of Nairobi transferred to the new university.

Consequently, the inauguration of Moi University took place on December 6, 1985.

The first 85 students of the university were accommodated at Kaptagat Hotel Where they stayed in tents pitched at the lawn of the hotel. Thereafter, tremendous development took place in terms of construction of physical facilities, student enrolment, staff recruitment and development of academic programmes.

However, as a result of a double intake that occurred in 1990/ 91 in order to accommodate the entry of the first batch of the KCSE graduates under the 8-4-4 system of education and the last group of students to sit for the KACE, a constituent college was established to cope with increase in student population. Siriba Teachers Training College and the Government Training College, Maseno were amalgamated and converted to Maseno University College, While Moi Teachers College was turned into Chepkoilel Campus.

Kenyatta University

University of Nairobi also expanded it reach with its oldest constituent college, the Kenyatta University College becoming a full-fledged university.

The history of Kenyatta University began in 1965 when the British government handed over the Templar Military Barracks to the newly independent government of Kenya.

The barracks were then changed into a college known as Kenyatta College to offer secondary education and teacher education.

However, in 1970, the college was elevated to a constituent college of the University of Nairobi, following an Act of Parliament and renamed Kenyatta University College. Subsequently, in 1978, the Faculty of Education was moved from the University of Nairobi to Kenyatta, becoming the only institution training teachers for both under-graduate and postgraduate levels in the country.

In 1981, Mackay report advised the Government to elevate Kenyatta University College into an autonomous full-fledged university. Following those recommendations and increased demand for university education, in 1985, the parliament passed Kenyatta University Act and Kenyatta was firmly set up as an autonomous university.

In 1988, the Government through a Legal Notice gazetted Jomo Kenyatta College of Agriculture and Technology as a constituent college of Kenyatta University and changed its name to Jomo Kenyatta University College of Agriculture and Technology.

Egerton University

In 1979, the Government elevated Egerton Agricultural College into a constituent college of the University of Nairobi with the express mandate to offer degrees in agricultural sciences and home economics.

Originally, Egerton Farm School was founded in 1939 by Lord Maurice Egerton of Tatton, a British settler whose aim was to prepare European youths in Kenya for careers in agriculture.

By 1955, the name had changed to Egerton Agricultural College and was offering certificate and diploma course in agriculture.

Soon afterward, the college opened its doors to people of all races in Kenya and other African countries. In 1987, the college was recognized as a chartered public university under the name of Egerton University.

Cost-sharing in public universities

From independence in 1963 until mid-1970s, public higher education in Kenya was offered free to the students as in most other countries in sub-Saharan Africa.

The rationale for free higher education was based on the country’s desire to create quickly highly trained manpower that could replace the departing colonial administrators. In return, graduates were bonded to Work in the public sector for a minimum of three years.

However, cost-sharing at the University of Nairobi and its constituent college of Kenyatta dates back to 1974/75 academic year when the Government introduced a loan scheme for all students. But many students and their parents continued to regard university education as free leading to the prevailing low recovery of these loans.

But in 1991, the Government introduced an enhanced cost-sharing scheme that required students to pay in full or in part through a direct charge depending on their need for tuition, food and accommodation.The move was a response to the ever declining state budget, which did not keep pace with high student intake when the first cohort of the 8-4-4 of students entered the university in 1990/91 academic year.

Under the new policy, they were required to cover both modest tuition fees and contribute to the costs of maintenance.

The introduction of direct charges was a Wake-up call that in the context of growing enrolments and diminished funding, the Government could no longer finance university education without compromising academic standards.

The introduced mode of cost-sharing in public university education was part of the Structural Adjustment Programmes prescribed by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund in most countries in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Student Strikes in Kenya

The untoward causes of student militancy and frequent riots that occurred in Kenya’s public universities during the third decade of independence could only be explained as end results of declining of national resources. The causes were also rooted in disappointment and distrust between the Government and students.

Declining national resources occasioned by economic melt down of the time as well as bulging enrolments had put the Government under intense pressure and it was unable to provide a high standard of living as that was enjoyed by students and staff during the first and even the second decades of independence. According to Prof Everett Standa, the chairman of Vice-Chancellors Committee on Causes of Disturbances and Riots in Public Universities, in adequate funding to meet physical needs of the students, poor food and overcrowded hostels played a major in the chain of events that led to closures in 1980s.

As already pointed out, the debt crisis of the decade led to the Structural Adjustment Programmes of the World Bank that were presented as conditionalities to be adhered to if the Government was to be put on the list of aid beneficiaries. During the entire period, universities operated on a stringent budget and students and staff became more militant.

The problem was intensified by lack of learning resources such as books, journals and laboratory equipment became chronic.

Strengths 8-4-4 System of Education in Kenya as identified by Koech Commission

  1. Practical subjects introduced the children to life skills and laid the foundation for skills development. Those subjects also oriented pupils towards the dignity of manual Work.
  2. An additional year at the primary level provided pupils with adequate time to mature since the majority end their formal schooling at the primary education level.
  3. The increase from seven to eight years at the primary level gives particular advantage to the girl-child who completes this cycle at a minimum age of 14 years. The system provides increased opportunities for students to compete for university places compared to the narrower pre-selected A-Level cohorts of the 7-4-2-3 system of education.

Weaknesses of the 8-4-4 System of Education in Kenya as identified by the Koech Commission

  1. Lack of incorporation of the pre-school circle as part and parcel of the structure.
  2. The loss of the two years of the higher secondary level that was said to rob the students of the opportunity to mature before entering the universities.
  3. The fact that many students were said to be unable to cope with the transition to the university life and learning styles.
  4. The mismatch between the curriculum content and the time allowed within each level.
  5. The hurried implementation without any prior consultations and preparation.

Key recommendations of the 8-4-4 System of Education in Kenya as identified by the Koech Commission

In order to alleviate problems inherent in the 8-4-4 system of education, the Koech Report came up with a system of education labeled as the Totally Integrated Quality Education and Training (TIQET). The report also came up with 558 recommendations.

Quite significant, the Koech Commission recommended there placement of the 8-4-4 system of education with TIQET. Basically Koech Report recommended for expansion of compulsory basic education from eight years to 12 years. It meant secondary education was to be part of basic education. Koech Report emphasized that with time, there should be no examination between primary and secondary school.

The report recommended reduction of subjects offered at secondary level, a move it noted would enhance quality at that level and also make the curriculum manageable. However, the report introduced a pre-university level that would prepare secondary school leavers for university and thus enhance the quality of university entrants. Listed below were other key recommendations of the Koech Report.

  1. Provision of a universal and compulsory basic education in which disparities posed by geographical factors, social and gender issues should be eliminated leading to equity in education at all levels.
  2. Expansion of opportunities at post-secondary level, so that learners can have flexibility in the pursuit of further studies.
  3. Introduction of modular learning approach and credit accumulation in post-secondary education, which allows for credit transfers from one institution to another.
  4. Introduction of limitless opportunities for access to education through expanded alternative and continuing education.
  5. Introduction of a manageable curriculum content at all levels of education that does not overburden the learners and teachers.
  6. A comprehensive legal frame work that addresses previously omitted aspects of education such as the early childhood care, development and education (ECDE), special education and technical education, and which creates new agencies charged with the delivery and coordination of education services.

Debate on educational reforms Koech Report was a radical document that proposed to replace the existing 8-4-4 system of education With TIQET, a concept that intended to integrate primary and secondary education into a 12-year compulsory basic education segment. The move was meant to provide every Kenyan child with an opportunity to attain the minimum of secondary education without undergoing through restrictive or selective examination procedures.

President Daniel arap Moi dismissed the Koech Report as Wishful thinking, unrealistic and unworkable. However, in order to pacify some of the critics of the 8-4-4 system, the Government reduced the number of subjects but the system remained intact.

8-4-4 System of Education in Kenya – News Updates

Forum sets stage for change in 8-4-4 System of Education in Kenya

Kenyans have proposed an education system that will put more emphasis on skills as opposed to theory and examinations.

The first three tiers of the system comprise five years of early childhood and lower primary education; six years for middle primary and lower secondary; and three years for upper secondary.

However, the years for tertiary education have not been agreed upon and await further consultations, especially with universities and higher institutions.

If approved, the new system of education will replace the current 8-4-4 system, which has been in place since 1985.

According to Education Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang’i, the proposed new education system will be approved at a national conference scheduled for July.

The timeline for implementing the new system and curriculum will also be addressed at that time.

The new proposals that seek to reform education were presented to stakeholders at a national conference held in Nairobi on Wednesday that was presided over by Deputy President William Ruto.

The 8-4-4 system has been widely criticised for being expansive, heavily loaded in terms of content and too examinations-oriented, which when combined, put undue pressure on the learners.

Tier one will consist of early year’s education and will have pre-primary and lower primary with the focus being foundational skill such as numeracy, reading, social and life skills as well as digital skills.

The second tier will have a broad-based curriculum that includes general knowledge, practical skills, technology and values and leads to selection of careers at the end of junior secondary school.

In the third tier, the focus will be communication skills, critical thinking, technology and creativity.

At this level, students will be exposed to various career paths such as general education; vocational education; and talents — sports and arts, which are intended to prepare them for careers in higher education and training, and the job market.

The third tier prepares the learners for higher education, whose timeframe has not been determined.

But the guiding principle is that it will be aligned to skills and knowledge acquired in basic education.

The proposed curriculum structure considers the age and developmental stages of the learners at all levels, allows transition of all pupils from primary to secondary, and offers several pathways to learners after secondary school.


These proposals are based on the Needs Assessment Study for Curriculum Reforms, which were conducted by the Kenya Institute of Curriculum Development (KICD).

Presenting the proposals, KICD Director Julius Jwan said the needs also established that the public wants a new examination format, where learners are tested on skills they have acquired instead of theories.

Testing, the public also recommended, should be continuous instead of at the end of cycle, which is prone to abuse and promotes stiff competition that only puts pressure on learners.

Dr Jwan said the new curriculum will require heavy investment in learning and teaching materials, including computers, as well as retraining of all teachers to equip them with the relevant skills and attitude to implement the changes.

KICD will be required to work with the Kenya National Examinations Council (KNEC) to devise best systems for testing.

The needs assessment, which was conducted from November last year shows that Kenyans desire a curriculum allows learner to identify their talent, nurtures it and adopts teaching methods that are friendly to learners.

The curriculum should promote age-appropriate knowledge, self-reliance, integrity, patriotism and transition in a friendly, inclusive and affordable environment.

It should also enhance peaceful social co-existence, contribute to economic development and address social vices such as corruption, tribalism and insecurity.