Kenya’s education dividend


This page in:

Despite positive news and the talk of an African “renaissance,” many still doubt whether the continent is ready for take-off. Rapid population growth and the resulting “youth bulge” remain major concerns in a context of widespread un(der)employment. How can a country like Kenya create one million jobs each year, just to accommodate new entrants into the labor force? 


But young people don’t just need jobs, they also create them. Therefore, what matters most is to make sure that the education system delivers the skills needed in emerging economies, and incubates entrepreneurs. In turn, as people become more educated and healthier, they will have fewer children. This is already happening: As Kenya continues to welcome about a million new citizens each year, family size is slowly declining. 


This creates the possibility of a “demographic dividend”, similar to what underpinned economic take-off in other parts of the world. Today, Kenya has more adults than children, more potential workers than dependants, and an increasingly urban population. Almost mechanically, this frees up resources: if families have higher incomes but fewer children, each child receives more attention (personal and financial). Nationwide, the demographic dividend can translate into an education dividend as well. And education matters: as it is one of the single most powerful predictors of future income and social mobility. 


Using new statistical methods, the Vienna-based Wittgenstein Centre for Demography and Global Human Capital has produced some fascinating analysis, which projects education attainment into the future. According to these projections, Kenya’s education landscape is changing rapidly. At the time of Independence, most adult Kenyans  had received no formal education. Since then, there have been two statistical watershed moments, and more to come. First, since 1980 the number of Kenyans with primary education has exceeded those with no education; just over a decade later, those with secondary education also exceeded those with none. 


Today, a majority of Kenyans have had the benefit of attaining basic education, and almost all children are going to school, except in northern and north-eastern Kenya. 


This country has 25 million people above the age of 15. About half of them (13 million) have received primary education (up from 11 million in 2000).  But the most rapid increase has been in secondary education. In 2000, Kenya had less than four million people with secondary education. This number has risen to seven million today, and is expected to triple to 20 million by 2035.  Tertiary education is also picking up from a low base and by 2020, the number of Kenyans with a university degree is also expected to exceed those without any formal education.  Before 2050, there will be a final major cross-over: by 2035, more Kenyans will have received secondary education than primary; Kenya will have 45 million people above the age of 15 (and some 70 million in total) 45 per cent will have completed secondary education, 44 per cent primary education, and six per cent university; and only five per cent of Kenyans will not have had any formal education.  Just a few years ago (in 2000) three quarters of Kenyans had no or just primary education (see figure).


Figure: Kenya’s Education Dividend

Source: Adapted from Jesus Crespo Cuaresma, Vienna University.  


But putting children in school is only a first step: they also need to be learning something (useful) there. The focus must now switch from quantity to quality of education.  


To get good learning outcomes will require significant investments in educational personnel and hardware. Kenya has some 250,000 teachers, which is not enough: while class sizes are somewhat manageable in the cities, they remain very large in rural areas.  Moreover, on average, 13 percent of teachers do not report to school. And many struggle to teach core foundational reading and mathematics skills. As a result, too many children fail basic reading and mathematics tests, even with several years of schooling. Teachers and administrators themselves need to be trained: for instance headteacher leadership is critical to ensure high standards, and to interface with parents.


Unless these quality bottlenecks are tackled, there is no guarantee that Kenya’s education dividend will pay off. Kenya has taken the necessary first step: most children are now in school and are staying there longer than most of their parents did. Now let’s make the most out of this revolution by ensuring that schools are a place where children actually learn. 




Helen Craig and the World Bank education team in Nairobi provided valuable input. 


Follow Wolfgang Fengler on Twitter@wolfgangfengler



Nicole Goldstein
September 12, 2012

The situation is strikingly similar in Ghana - which is often held up as a beacon of hope across the continent. While access has indeed increased since school fees were abolished in 2005, the quality of education remains incredibly poor. In the National Education Assessment (2011), only 16% of grade 6 students scored 'proficient' (>55%) on the maths test and just a 1/3rd of students scored 'proficient' on the English test. The education system needs to serve the students - the future of Ghana.

Tammie Grey
September 05, 2012

Definitely, many students will fail if their teachers do not go to do their job. However, even I would get lazy to do my responsibility if I am not compensated well.

high school diploma
September 06, 2012

Oh my God. It is very bad, UN should takes more better ways to educate the peoples of this poor country.

September 06, 2012

A nice article but i am sad that only 6% will have university education by 2035. That will be after 70 years of independence. The government need to do more. For us to compete globally at least 40% of the population should have university education. But of course the politicians will do nothing about this because they rather have an illiterate population who cannot demand more from them than literate population who will demand more from them

September 06, 2012

We have gained the numbers but we are not able to compete favourably with a highschool graduate or university graduate from the first world. in fact with "education for all" program the standard of learning in learning institution has gone down. with the lack of well qualified teachers, and teacher participation in altering the system of education, has resulted in huge numbers in the school with no facilities for science, maths, labs, even gender friendly facilities ( separate toilets for boys and girls/ separate desk that are gender friendly) has creased a myriad of more problems.
another thing that stands out is that academic education has been given preference, where as being a poor country that is looking to achieve millennium goals, and create employment, technical education is lagging behind.

September 25, 2012

The figure has 5 lines on the line graph, but the key shows comments on 4 lines only, is it correctly stating what you desired?

Otherwise, the article is ultimately quite informative and depicts a clear picture of what is happening and projected to happen in the country.

Finance Advisory PwC Kenya

October 10, 2012

I bet Rwanda will have surpassed those percentages by far despite the fact that its unknown to some of u.

October 23, 2012

The nation’s ability to accommodate a redundant industry/former employee from one job(jobs taken off-shore as an example) and get support plus training for the next key local industry must be the focus.

I think the quality of education lies in higher learning, though we all need some sort of education, if one, or the state can afford it. I fear it is higher education that we do not focus on.

Key industry skills, why is this missing from the article? In NBO we have done the opposite with the Polytechnic, made it a University while in the UK they are reducing the number of Universities to have Polytechnics. I really worry for the near/far future.

Countries like Sweden, the Swiss understand this very well, if we can create industries and have proper relative and competitive(with regards to the world of course) training for Kenya (‘kazi kwa vijana’ – work for the youth) then we can all prosper, we can’t blame the teachers, it’s clearly where the state needs to invest and create policies around.

Free education without free good books, balanced meals for the younger etc is a double edges sword.

If younger people must work to get a balanced mean, so be it, but where is the work? that is the next big question, all this focus on training for the young, lack of enough relevant training for the youth. I have no idea what is going on.

May 13, 2013

Thank you Wolfgang , a pretty nice informative article of where we are (standstill) but I am not sure we can rely on this to predict that we will only have 6 % of the 70 million having a university degree.
First those who think that 6 % is too small , you might want to check what the other developed nations have attained not as a total of adult population /working population but as a % of the entire population.
Now why I think the projections might not be very reliable , is because they fail to predict the rising changing education delivery technologies. It is akin of the predictions made by a number of institutions that by 2007 the mobile phone subscriber base in Kenya would be about 1 million. We know how this number turned out to be incorrect. Education delivery is under rapid transformation from the emergence of models such as the Khan academy and others and with rapid drop in prices of laptops/tablets etc , I wonder whether such a large number of teachers will be required or the number of classrooms. The same disruptions that we saw in communication technology that deliver rapid affordability and mass usage are what we are about to see with Education, so I think primary school and secondary education (if at all we will use the same categorizations to measure literacy/skills leve attainment by 2050) completions, will be achieved much faster than your predictions Wolf - unless Kenya goes into war and fails to take advantage of these technological developments.
Sorry but economists have been terribly wrong in predicting the magnitudes of technology adoption impacts.

Naimeesh Mistry
November 12, 2013

I used to live in Kenya, and in a way, it is really disappointing how their isn't wide spread education centres/schools in Kenya, especially agricultural areas. The main aspect they need to focus on would be teaching the indigenous the benefits of education, to help them boost kenya's economy.

Interested educator
December 15, 2013

The widespread use of mobile phones must be a positive for Kenyan education, inadvertently educating the masses. The brain drain must be slowing down and helping their own country as it is so exciting to live in Kenya at this time in history.