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Manifestations of boys’ under participation
in education in Kenya: the case of Busia and
Jafred Muyaka , David Emoit Omuse & Francis Likoye Malenya
To cite this article: Jafred Muyaka , David Emoit Omuse & Francis Likoye Malenya (2021):
Manifestations of boys’ under participation in education in Kenya: the case of Busia and
Kirinyaga counties, Compare: A Journal of Comparative and International Education, DOI:
To link to this article: https://doi.org/10.1080/03057925.2021.1877113
Published online: 26 Jan 2021.
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Manifestations of boys’ under participation in education in
Kenya: the case of Busia and Kirinyaga counties
, David Emoit Omuse
and Francis Likoye Malenya
Department of Educational Foundations, University of Eldoret, Eldoret, Kenya;
Department of Curriculum
and Instruction, University of Eldoret, Eldoret, Kenya;
Department of Educational Foundations, Kenyatta
University, Nairobi, Kenya
There has been a growing concern in Kenya that boys have
gradually been left out of the gender equation with little research
capturing their schooling experiences. When examined, boys’
underachievement is treated with suspicion that has led to few
studies demonstrating their marginalisation. This paper explored
the manifestations of boys’ underachievement in education in
Busia and Kirinyaga counties in Kenya. The study was carried out
in 12 primary schools targeted 12 headteachers, 24 teachers, 480
pupils, 8 education ocials and 180 households. Enrolment,
school attendance, and candidature for national examinations
data showed boys were marginalised. In addition, they lacked
adequate role models. However, on performance, boys still had
better results than girls. The paper concludes that boys were
beginning to under participate in education and recommends
the need for gender interventions to target both boys and girls
and tripartite eorts at communities, county governments and
national government to re-enrol boys.
Boys; education; primary
education; level; gender;
The right to education is universally accepted and protected by both legal and policy
frameworks. The Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) is one such policy
framework that safeguards and promotes the rights of children. Enshrined in CRC is
the right to an acceptable and adaptable non-discriminatory education (UNICEF
2006). Historically, girls have faced a lot of challenges in their quest to access some of
these rights, including education (Zimba Undated, Chant and Guttmann 2000; Herz
and Sperling 2004). This justiﬁes eﬀorts that aimed to promote girls’ access and
retention in schools. As the world continues to mobilise resources to support girls’
education, there has been a widespread perception that boys have been left out of the
gender discussion (Miller 2018, Chant and Guttmann 2000; Chang’ach 2012). In some
countries such as United States of America, the United Kingdom, Brazil, Mongolia,
Malaysia, the Philippines, and Thailand, boys have been noted to underachieve in
national examinations, have higher dropout rates and are exposed more to corporal
punishment while at school as compared to girls (EAP UNGEI 2011). In one such
CONTACT Jafred Muyaka firstname.lastname@example.org University of Eldoret, P.O. BOX 1125-30100, Eldoret, Kenya
© 2021 British Association for International and Comparative Education
study, Kuper and Jacobs (2018) reported that, on average, boys underperform girls at
schools in developed countries and identiﬁed competencies in reading, enrolment in
university education and boys’ shrinking lead in numeracy as areas of concern.
The World Development Report 2012 gave a general global synopsis of gender trends
in school enrolment from primary through tertiary institutions (World Bank 2011).
According to the report, gender gaps, to the disadvantage of girls and women, have
been reducing in the last 25 years. The report further noted that in some countries, once
enrolled, girls tended to stay in school at rates equal to, or higher than, those of their male
Evidence of boys’ under participation in education has been reported in parts of
Africa. For instance, in 2012, statistics from Namibia disaggregated by gender showed
girls had recorded higher grades than boys across the then 13 education regions (Zimba
Undated). In higher education, statistics from University of Namibia between 2002 and
2012 indicated that the institution consistently graduated more females (60%) than males
(40%). The trend was replicated in the Polytechnic of Namibia for the period 2006–2011
(Polytechnic of Namibia Graduation Reports of 2006–2011). According to Zimba
(Undated), statistics from Botswana, Namibia, South Africa, Swaziland and Zambia
revealed a higher proportion of females enrolling in schools than males.
The underlying statistics bring to the fore a fundamental question on whether boys
have been suﬃciently supported to participate in education. If yes, then what explains the
emerging under participation? Some studies have examined this and linked it to the
existing stereotypes in communities (Edwards, Knoche, and Kumru 2003; Marie-Pierre
2011; Fatuma et al. 2013). Other studies conducted in Kenya have considered boys to be
more independent, less interested in learning, and to have the potential to earn money
while working (Chege and Likoye 2015; National Gender and Equality Commission
2015). The opportunity cost, with the perception that boys are unresponsive to learning
and with more diverse work opportunities with economic gains, means poor families
tend to withdraw boys from schools to supplement family income (Torres 2011a).
The nature of school environments has also been documented as aﬀecting boys’
schooling experiences (Davis and Hay 2018; Chege and Likoye 2015). Generally, the
school environment is not gender-neutral (Nethanomsak, Ngang, and Raksasataya 2019).
There is the growing perception that schools have become ‘feminised’, and the feminisa-
tion of school values cited as a factor that has led to under participation of boys in
education (Davis and Hay 2018; Carrington and McPhee 2008). The assumption remains
that boys suﬀer from feminised school environments.
In this article, we explore the gender concerns that boys in Kenya are under partici-
pating in education. Speciﬁcally, we seek the evidence to explain this narrative of under
participation. Under participation is used in this article to mean boys’ low achievement
levels in education measured by their enrolment, school attendance and performance in
national examinations. This helped to respond to the extent to which boys’ under
participation manifests in Kenya’s primary education. Manifestations, therefore, referred
to the emerging evidence that the primary education system in Kenya has contributed to
boys’ marginalisation in education.
In the last two decades, Kenya has recorded a remarkable progress in increasing access
to education for both girls and boys. The adoption of Free Primary Education and
subsidised Secondary Education in 2003 and 2008, respectively, are two of the
2J. MUYAKA ET AL.
contributing factors. In the period between 2012 and 2016, enrolment ratio of boys to
girls in primary schools was 0.51:0.49 (Republic of Kenya 2016). The government made
a commitment to eliminate gender and regional disparities in basic education by 2017
(Republic of Kenya 2012b). Whereas national indicators have been impressive, disparities
still exist among counties and regions.
One of the challenges facing Kenya’s primary education is the slow growth in the
number of public schools compared to the demand. For instance, in the period 2014–2018,
the number of primary schools grew by 7% to 37,910 (Kenya National Bureau of Statistics
2019). Yet the government, since 2018, has been pursuing an ambitious plan to have
a 100% transition rate from primary to secondary schools. This has exerted pressure to an
already overstretched system that lacks enough resources and facilities to meet the growing
demand. This 100% transition has not been achieved with the latest statistics by KNBS
(2019) showing that the pupil transition rate for 2018 was 83.3% up from 76.1% in 2014.
The primary school level still experiences wastages with pupil completion rate estimated at
84.2% in 2018 up from 79.3% in 2014. These ﬁgures show an upward trend but still low for
a country oﬀering a compulsory and free basic education.
The enrolment in primary schools in Kenya in 2018 was 10.5 million, with an average
school size of 277. The survival rate at Standard 8 stood at 76.9% in 2018. The Gross
Enrolment Rate (GER) for primary schools was 108.0% while the Net Enrolment Rate
(NER) was 92.4%. The number of candidates sitting for KCPE rose by 6.7% from 2014 to
stand at 1,060,710 in 2018. There were slightly more girls (50.1%) sitting for KCPE in
2018. The total number of primary school teachers in Kenya in 2018 was 215,363 with
more female teachers (51.8%) than male teachers (48.2%).
Boys have traditionally been depicted as being at a vantage position as far as access to
education opportunities are concerned, while girls are at the periphery. Although this
may be true in many contexts, it represents a stereotype that has led to a skewed focus
and exclusive attention to girls justiﬁed by their presumed vulnerability. This gender
struggle in Kenya should, however, be understood within the historical, political and
social-cultural context of the Kenyan society. The shifts in the economic and social
order partly explain the emergence of the reverse gender discussion witnessed in the
country today. The existing gender relations and their related struggles were shaped by
the colonial administration particularly their gender beliefs about men’s and women’s
social positions. Through western education, men were socialised as family breadwin-
ners. This explains the struggle most African traditional families continue to go
through to support boys’ education in order to live up to this expectation.
Consequently, girls faced marginalisation because the traditional social systems
favoured boys’ education.
Pike (2020) argues that the economic strife with the decline in the agricultural
sector and the dwindling and precarious jobs orchestrated by a static economy
means men are no longer capable of living up to this expectation of being the
‘breadwinners’. More women are therefore taking up the providence role and
expanding their inﬂuence in the society. On the political and social front, Kenya
has for the past few decades carried out mobilisation targeting gender equality.
These eﬀorts culminated in a new constitution that was promulgated in 2010.
Among other provisions, the 2010 Constitution requires that no more than two-
thirds of members of any public institution be of the same gender. The National
Gender and Equality Commission (NGEC), a creation of the constitution, and many
other women profession-based organisations such as Federation of Women Lawyers
have pushed for empowerment of women.
One outcome of women empowerment interventions has been the eﬀort to eliminate
discrimination against girls. However, the society, in the process, appears to have neglected
the plight of boys (Chang’ach 2012; Pike 2020; Ministry of Education EMIS 2012). The
narrative has been that boys have started falling behind girls in education. For instance, in
2010, the Minister for Education raised concerns over boy-child education. For instance, it
was noted that in Central, Eastern and Nairobi regions, more girls than boys had sat for
the primary school leaving examination. In 2009, the Kenya National Examination
Council found out that girls had outperformed boys in literacy and the superior perfor-
mance demonstrated by boys in numeracy was reducing. Girls had further stabilised in
many aspects of schooling while their male counterparts had begun to decline. The literacy
studies have corroborated these ﬁndings where girls at the end of the third grade out-
performed boys in both rural and urban schools (RTI International 2014a).
This emerging trend of boys’ low participation in education in parts of the country and
in some areas such as enrolment, candidature at national examinations and completion
rates need research attention. What seems not clear in the country is the extent to which
boys are under participating in education. What do boys do or do not do to under
participate in education? What has the Kenyan society been doing to or with boys that
has led to this trend where boys are under participating in education?
Statement of the problem
In the last decade, statistics in some of the regions in the country have presented a pattern
of boys’ decline, particularly with regard to enrolment, retention and learning outcomes.
This has led to a growing concern in Kenya that boys are gradually being left out of the
gender equation. Unfortunately, research in this area continues to capture schooling
experiences of girls with little attention to boys’ circumstances. More disturbing is the
observation that even when it is examined, boys’ under participation in education is
treated with a lot of suspicion. Consequently, fewer studies undertaken to demonstrate
the disadvantage that boys face. This paper interrogated manifestations of boys’ under
participation in education in the counties of Busia and Kirinyaga in Kenya. In particular,
the study looked at enrolment trends against the projected population of school-going-
age children, attendance, candidature at KCPE and lastly KCPE performance since 2014
to establish whether boys were under participating in education.
Objectives of the study
The speciﬁc objectives of the paper were:
(1) To establish the extent to which school attendance, enrolment, and retention
reﬂect boys under participation in education.
(2) To determine whether boys are underperforming in national examinations.
4J. MUYAKA ET AL.
The study adopted a mixed-methods design that involved the collection of both qualitative
and quantitative data. Speciﬁcally, this was a convergent parallel sequential mixed method
where both qualitative and quantitative data were collected concurrently with equal weighting.
The study was conducted in Kirinyaga and Busia Counties in Kenya. The two counties
were selected purposively based on the Ministry of Education statistics that identiﬁed
them as among the counties where boys’ enrolment in education, when compared to
girls, were almost equal (KNBS 2015). Busia County is located at the extreme western side
of Kenya covering an estimated area of 1,695 KM
while Kirinyaga County is in central
Kenya covering an estimated area of 1,478.1 KM
In each of the two selected counties, three sub counties were sampled based on their
performance in the 2017 KCPE examination results. Stratiﬁed sampling was employed to
get a mix of three strata namely; best performing, average performing and low performing
sub-counties. From each sub-county, two primary schools were selected purposively; one
where boys were underperforming and the other where girls were underperforming, giving
a total of 12 schools. The study sample consisted of 12 head-teachers who responded to
a school questionnaire. Further, the study interviewed two teachers from each school giving
a total of 24 teachers. In each school, 40 pupils were sampled; 10 from each of class ﬁve to class
eight, giving a total of 480 pupils (240 girls and 240 boys). The upper classes were chosen as
they would independently complete a closed-ended questionnaire. The County Director of
Education (CDE) and the three Sub County Directors of Education (SCDE) from each county
participated in a 45−60-minute individual interview. In addition, the study sampled 15
households in each of the six school communities giving a total of 180 households.
The study collected both quantitative and qualitative data. Microsoft Excel and the Statistical
Package for Social Sciences (SPSS) were used to analyse data from the household question-
naire, pupil questionnaire and school questionnaire. This mainly used descriptive statistics to
demonstrate boys’ participation in education. Analysis of qualitative data involved creation of
thematic codes that were used to transform the interview transcripts and analysis into a report.
Lastly, both the quantitative and qualitative reports were interpreted in a complementary
manner to inform on the perception that boys were under participating in education.
The study showed that most children (89.5%) lived with their parents. A further 9.1%
lived with relatives and an estimated 1.3% of the children were staying with non-relatives.
The average household size was 6 (Kirinyaga County had 5 and Busia 6).
In the sampled schools, there were more female teachers (67.1%) than male teachers
(32.9%). The teacher–pupil ratio in the sampled schools was 1:34. However, 1.9% of the
teachers were untrained. The distance taken by pupils to access their schools has a bearing on
their educational achievement. Other than the energy and time taken, hazards including
encounter with wild animals and bandits may prevent pupils from accessing schools. In this
study, the majority of households (97.2%) estimated that it took less than one hour for their
children to walk to the nearest school. The communities were largely safe with over 96%
reporting that their children’s travel to and from school is either very safe or fairly safe.
However, 4% still indicated that the communities were fairly unsafe for school-going children.
Research ndings and discussion
The study had two objectives: ﬁrst, to establish the extent to which school attendance,
enrolment, and retention reﬂect boys’ under participation in education and second, to
determine whether boys were underperforming in national examinations.
The task for the ﬁrst objective was to analyse enrolment data, school attendance and
the population of students sitting for KCPE disaggregated by gender.
(a) School enrolment
Enrolment data have often been used to demonstrate learners’ participation in education.
The study examined pupils’ enrolment in the sampled primary schools between 2014 and
2018 and the pattern is as shown in Table 1.
Table 1 shows that girls consistently recorded higher enrolment (51.7%, 51.1%, 50.9%
and 50.6% for 2014, 2015, 2016 and 2017, respectively) than boys. However, 2018 was
exceptional, boys’ enrolment was marginally more (50.2%) than girls (49.8%). The
average gender gap based on the total enrolment in the two counties for the period
2014–2018 was 1.4%.
A line graph that compared enrolment in the two counties is as shown in Figure 1.
Enrolment in Kirinyaga County was low.
Table 1. Enrolment data 2014–2018 in Kirinyaga and Busia Counties.
Year/County Boys Girls Total
2014 Kirinyaga 656 49.5% 680 51.3% 1326
Busia 1468 48.1% 1581 51.9% 3049
Total 2124 48.5% 2261 51.7% 4375
2015 Kirinyaga 644 49.3% 662 50.7% 1306
Busia 1533 48.7% 1615 51.3% 3148
Total 2177 48.9% 2277 51.1% 4454
2016 Kirinyaga 688 49.8% 693 50.2% 1381
Busia 1553 48.8% 1632 51.2% 3185
Total 2241 49.1% 2325 50.9% 4566
2017 Kirinyaga 1344 50.1% 1334 49.8% 2680
Busia 1520 48.7% 1601 51.3% 3121
Total 2864 49.4% 2935 50.6% 5801
2018 Kirinyaga 1443 50.4% 1409 49.2% 2862
Busia 1519 50.0% 1520 50.0% 3039
Total 2962 50.2% 2929 49.6% 5901
6J. MUYAKA ET AL.
The sampled primary schools in Busia County, in the period 2014 and 2018, had
slightly more enrolment than the sampled primary schools in Kirinyaga County.
When enrolment trends were analysed alongside the age projection for age 6–13 by
the KNBS (2015), marginalisation of boys emerged. For instance, KNBS Report had
projected boys’ population for age 6–13 years in the two counties to be at 50.3%
compared to girls’ 49.7% (Kenya National Bureau of Statistics 2015). The projections
indicated slightly more school going-age boys than girls. However, the actual enrolment
in schools had slightly more girls (51%) enrolled than boys (49%). The ﬁndings corro-
borate well with what was established at the household level. The household data showed
that 5.9% of school-going age children were out of school. When disaggregated by
gender, more boys (3.8%) than girls (2.2%) were out of school. Boys were beginning to
under participate in education.
Poor enrolment among boys was equally voiced by education stakeholders in the two
counties. According to the stakeholders, boys were being raised in an environment that
was not gender-neutral. The cultural beliefs in the two communities perceived boys as
young as 10 years to be ‘men’ with responsibility of providing basic needs to their
households. This might explain why more boys than girls were exposed to income-
generating activities like riding boda boda (motorcycles), sand harvesting, washing
trucks/vehicles and child labour in coﬀee and tea industries. There was an apparent
understanding that boys can ‘misbehave’ a little, can stay alone or even be left to shelter
themselves outside their homesteads. This perception made boys believe that they could
be involved in providing basic needs to their households as a normal way of graduating
into adult life. When boys stay alone or far away from their homesteads, there is the
likelihood of irregular school attendance compared to when they are closely monitored
within homesteads. Whilst communities gave boys a considerable level of independence
including staying outside their homesteads, this was not the case for girls. Families were
too protective of girls whom they closely monitored in the homesteads. This apparent
lack of attention given to boys could partly explain their low numbers in classes when
compared to girls. Some of the views were captured and presented thus:
1336 1306 1381
3049 3148 3185
4385 4454 4566
2014 2015 2016 2017 2018
Primary Enrolment Trends in Kirinyaga and Busia Counties, 2014-2018
Figure 1. Enrolment trends, 2014–2018.
In Teso South, we have more girls enrolled than boys. For instance, this year, the total
number of girls enrolled for KCPE is 2050 while that of boys is 1975. The same trend
continues up to secondary. Boys who are out of school are more compared to girls in Teso
South . . . . [why is this the case?] . . . because boys are exposed more than girls and others see
no sense to continue with education when they can make money early enough through
riding boda boda, sand harvesting than girls who are conﬁned within homesteads most of
the time . . . . . . boy child is not given equal attention that is given to the girl. He’s exposed to
the environment while the girl is protected by parents. Boys drop to venture in sand
harvesting, boda boda riding and washing trucks at the Malaba border (SCDE Teso
South 11 October 2018).
More enrolment of girls than boys in the sampled schools in the two counties conﬁrms
the fear in the country that boys have started to under participate in education. These
ﬁndings corroborate earlier studies that had raised concerns of boys falling behind girls at
an alarming rate. In 2010, the Kenya Institute for Public Policy Research and Analysis
(KIPPRA) Report (2013) indicated that the NER for primary school in Kenya was 92.3%
for girls and 90.6% for boys. Furthermore, out of the 47 counties, 39 (83%) had better
NER ratios for girls than boys, indicating that more girls than boys of appropriate age
were accessing primary education in Kenya.
Low enrolment of boys in primary school has not been conﬁned to Kenya alone. Jha
and Kelleher (2006) reported that Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia and Mauritius had
recorded more enrolment of girls than boys in their primary schools and secondary
levels. This was equally conﬁrmed by Zimba (Undated) in his analysis of data from
Botswana, Namibia, South Africa, Swaziland and Zambia. A study targeting
Commonwealth countries showed that the gender gap at primary school has either
disappeared or has turned in favour of girls (Jha, Menon, and Chatterjee 2017).
Boys’ under participation in education in Busia and Kirinyaga counties was linked to
child labour where they were involved in income-generating activities. Parents, teachers
and education oﬃcials reported that boys spent most of their school time engaged in
motorcycle-transport business, sand harvesting, washing trucks/vehicles and picking
coﬀee and tea. Involvement of boys in child labour points to poverty levels among the
two communities. The Human Development Index (HDI) for Busia County was at 0.43,
lower than the national average of 0.52 and the unemployment rate was around 66.7%
(Busia County Integrated Development Plan 2018–2022 2018). These are clear indicators
that most households in the county experience high poverty levels.
In low-income economies and poor communities such as Busia County, children are
seen as an economic resource for poor parents. As a consequence, parents depend on
children’s labour earnings to cushion themselves during harsh economic situations
(Ahmed and Ray 2011). Hence, poverty remains the greatest single most factor pushing
children from poor households into the workplace. The unfortunate thing is that when
children leave school and enter the workforce while young, they join cadres of
occupations that do not help them break out of the poverty cycle. According to the
International Labour Organization (ILO) 2015, child labour has devastating eﬀects on
schooling of children. From a policy perspective, the concern is whether working
aﬀects in any way their participation in education. We contend that boys who spend
school hours providing labour will struggle attending school regularly and keeping at
par with school assignments. In addition, it is almost expected that the exhaustion that
8J. MUYAKA ET AL.
comes with long hours of working will aﬀect their concentration in class. The whole-
some eﬀects of these would be poor performance, irregular school attendance, low
NERs, dislike of schooling and cases of increased school drop-outs among boys
(Ahmed and Ray 2011).
It is not the intention of this article to argue that girls in Kenya are not involved in child
labour. Child labour in Kenya aﬀects both boys and girls (National Gender and Equality
Commission 2015). However, child labour involving boys seems to leave explicit eﬀects on
their schooling experiences that would warrantee an explanation. What explains the
devastating eﬀects of child labour to boys? The numbers of male and female participating
in child labour notwithstanding, studies have reported that girls, more than boys, tend to
combine schooling with work in rural areas better (Khanam 2008). Would this be because
of the diﬀerent types of work that girls and boys engage in? On average, boys work mostly
outside the home while girls are engaged mostly within homes and therefore the latter can
still access their learning materials. More studies will need to be conducted to ﬁnd the
explanation for girls’ resilience when it comes to combining work and schooling.
Kenya has enacted laws intended to protect children from child labour. The Parliament
enacted the Children Bill, 2017 which prohibits, among other things, child labour.
However, the law only protects children engaged on ‘contractual agreements’. Where
children are engaged in child labour without a contract or the children do not derive any
beneﬁt from their work directly or indirectly, the Children Act does not adequately cover
them. This is a gap in the legal frameworks that was to support communities ﬁght child
labour. The context in Kenya is that most of the school-going boys and girls are engaged
without a contract, making it diﬃcult to enforce the existing law.
(b) School attendance
School attendance is another education indicator used to determine gender participation
in education. Irregular school attendance has a disruptive eﬀect on the education of
children, making it an important indicator of marginalisation of either girls or boys. In
this study, school attendance is used to refer to the actual headcount, that is, the actual
number of boys and girls that were present during the day researchers visited the selected
schools. An analysis of children’s attendance showed that Kirinyaga and Busia counties
experienced chronic absenteeism as shown in Table 2.
Twenty-one per cent of the pupils were absent on the day the researchers visited the
schools. Absenteeism in Busia County was chronic with 32% of the boys absent on
the day of the school visit. Indeed, irregular school attendance was one cause of boys
under participation in education in Busia County.
Interviews with the informants showed that the counties had irregular pupils’ school
attendance. School absenteeism was linked to a number of factors among them high
levels of poverty and availability of monetary activities for boys. Presence of monetary
activities was a source of motivation for boys to miss school and/or drop out of school. In
one of the interviews with one of the Deputy Head-teachers, factors for high absenteeism
were indicated thus:
The predominant cultural practices that aﬀect attendance and performance in this community
includes; brewing of local liquor, attending “disco matanga” (local disco) and going to the
market. Boys go to market with their parents to sell animals while girls stay home to take care
of young ones. Additionally, local liquor and disco matanga aﬀects mostly boys’ participation
and performance. (Deputy Headteacher Katelenyang Primary, 9 October 2018)
The term ‘matanga’ is a Swahili word for ‘funeral’ and therefore ‘disco matanga’ refers
to the local disco that involves partying at a funeral and normally happens at night.
They facilitate causal and sometimes careless sex among young girls and boys. The
intense atmosphere facilitated by music, where songs always have strong sexual con-
notations, explicit lyrics, punctuated by suggestive dancing with little parental control
are a motivator for sexual debut and school disruption. There was a feeling among
informants that school-going boys were left free in the communities to attend disco
matanga. Besides poisoning children minds, school-going children do not get enough
sleep aﬀectively negatively their concentration in class. In addition, liquor was an
impediment to boys’ schooling. Boys were engaged in brewing of local liquor as
a source of income for their families. Some were equally noted to have already been
recruited into drinking.
Data on school attendance by gender in sub-Saharan Africa are reported to be scarce
and Kenya is not an exception (di-Marco 2016). However, the few studies available
indicate that school absenteeism is not uncommon in Kenya’s primary schools. For
instance, Uwezo-Kenya reported that the percentage of enrolled pupils attending school
was 88.6% (90.7% and 86.6% for girls and boys, respectively) (Kenya 2012). Accordingly,
more boys (13.4%) than girls (9.3%) missed schools, highlighting the disadvantage boys
(c) Kenya Certiﬁcate of Primary Education (KCPE) candidature
There has been reported fear that although enrolment of boys and girls is at par or even
higher for boys in the early years of schooling, dropout rates for boys are higher in upper
classes (Kenya 2010). This reduces, signiﬁcantly, the number of boys who sit for KCPE
examinations. The ﬁndings on boys and girls sitting for KCPE between 2013 and 2017 are
as shown in Table 3.
Table 3 shows that more girls (51.7%) than boys (48.3%) sat for KCPE between the
period 2013–2017. Therefore, it is notable that more boys than girls had dropped out of
school in upper classes in the selected schools in the two counties. These ﬁndings
corroborate what Chang’ach (2012) had reported in Keiyo South District in Kenya.
Table 2. School attendance by headcount.
Busia Kirinyaga Total
Boys Girls Total Boys Girls Total Boys Girls Total
Std 1 62% 77% 68% 81% 81% 81% 70% 79% 75%
Std 2 76% 68% 72% 87% 86% 86% 81% 76% 79%
Std 3 62% 66% 64% 86% 86% 86% 74% 76% 75%
Std 4 61% 74% 67% 92% 96% 94% 76% 85% 80%
Std 5 69% 62% 65% 97% 80% 88% 83% 72% 77%
Std 6 65% 63% 64% 89% 94% 92% 79% 80% 79%
Std 7 81% 62% 70% 90% 92% 91% 86% 78% 82%
Std 8 74% 74% 74% 101% 89% 95% 89% 82% 86%
Total 68% 68% 68% 91% 88% 89% 80% 78% 79%
10 J. MUYAKA ET AL.
The number of boys registered for KCPE national examinations in the district between
2000 and 2010 was lower than girls.
(d) Pupil–Teacher ratio
Teachers are role models for pupils. Some scholars have argued for same-sex role model
in improving educational performance and behaviour of pupils (Carrington and McPhee
2008; Kelleher 2011; Lloyd 2009). Inadequate and lack of same sex role models in schools
linked to poor educational achievement, poor behaviour and general gender identity
crisis among children. This study examined the pupil (boy)-male teacher ratio and pupil
(girl)-female teacher ratio to ascertain if they are in line with the recommended ratios.
The teacher–pupil ratio for the sampled schools was 1:34 which was within the
recommended staﬃng standards of the Ministry of Education (MoE) of 1:40 (Teachers
Service Commission 2006). However, the ratio showed that boys had less chances of
interacting with a male teacher (1:52) as compared to girls (1:25). Boys in Kirinyaga were
at a greater disadvantage with a male teacher to boy ratio of 1:60 as compared to female
teacher to girl ratio of 1:20. Access to mentors and role models is at the heart of a quality
education. Whereas the current study did not establish whether the more feminised school
environment had aﬀected boys’ participation in education in Kirinyaga County, inadequate
numbers of male teachers in schools aﬀect boys. Studies by Carrington and McPhee (2008)
argued that lack of enough male teachers in schools negatively aﬀects performance and
behaviours of boys and girls. This is a cause for concern given that poorly behaved pupils
and those with low achievements have increased chances of dropping out of school.
The current study established that there was a higher proportion of female teachers
(67.1%) in the two counties. This trend of underrepresentation of male teachers in the
teaching force in primary schools is common in many education systems across the
world (Carrington and McPhee 2008). In Australia, Davis and Hay (2018) indicated that
the primary school teacher workforce only had 8% male teachers. Globally, there are
increased calls for more male teachers as the teaching profession is accused of being
‘feminised’, a situation which is assumed to have negative eﬀects on the education of
boys. Therefore, for schools to become more ‘boy friendly’ and thus contribute to
improving boys’ participation in education, employment and proportionate distribution
of male teachers is inevitable. In Kenya, enrolment data in primary Teachers Training
Table 3. Candidature for KCPE 2014–2017.
Year Gender Busia Kirinyaga Total
2013 Boys 91 65 156
Girls 108 69 177
2014 Boys 113 83 196
Girls 119 86 205
2015 Boys 128 74 202
Girls 145 71 216
2016 Boys 145 86 231
Girls 133 79 212
2017 Boys 110 75 185
Girls 131 97 228
Total Boys 587 383 970
Girls 636 402 1038
Colleges presents a pattern of dismal numbers of male teacher trainees enrolling and
those completing their two-year programmes. The Kenya National Examination Council
(KNEC) reported that in the past ﬁve years, more female candidates sat for the Primary
Teacher Education (PTE) examination than their male counterparts. In the 2018 PTE
examinations, 60.5% of the candidates were female compared to 39.5% who were male
(Wanzala 2018). This means more qualiﬁed female teachers than male teachers available
for recruitment in the next 10 years.
Studies have already linked the presence of female teachers in school to increased
enrolment of girls especially in sex-segregated contexts where parents are hesitant
trusting their daughters with schools staﬀed with male teachers (Kelleher 2011; Lloyd
2009; Plan International 2013). In the same prism, inadequate population of male
teachers in schools would aﬀect enrolment of boys as parents contemplate on the role
models of their boys in schools that are predominantly female. Studies have also provided
positive relationship between sex matching between teachers and students and improved
academic achievements for both boys and girls in North America, South Asia and sub-
Saharan Africa (Plan International 2013). This corroborates well with earlier studies that
linked lower performance of boys to underrepresentation of males in the teaching force
(Harris and Barnes 2009; Carrington, Tymms, and Merrell 2008; Holmlund and Sund
Matching pupils and teachers by gender as an eﬀective strategy for role modelling has
elicited varying arguments. There are those who support gender-stereotypic model where
boys do well in their academics when taught by male teachers and then the gender-
invariant model where performance of girls and boys is the same when handled by either
men or female teachers. In one of the studies, academic motivation and engagement did
not vary signiﬁcantly as a function of their teacher’s gender (Martin and Marsh 2005).
Other studies in the USA, Finland, Canada and Netherlands have also refuted these
claims (Driessen 2007; Sokal et al. 2007). Despite the emerging contrary empirical
evidence on same sex role model, this study argues that availability of both male and
female teachers in adequate numbers is crucial in improving achievement and attitudes
of boys. In cases, as established above, that the number of male teachers is inadequate,
makes the learning environment in the selected primary schools inappropriate for boys.
(e) Learning outcomes
The second objective in this study was to determine the performance of boys in national
examinations relative to girls in order to establish if they were underperforming. The
study analysed the performance of the sampled schools between 2013 and 2017 and the
ﬁndings are as shown in Table 4.
The overall ﬁnding on the arguments and observations that, when compared to girls,
boys post poor education performance lacked empirical evidence. Over the study period
as shown in the table, boys still posted better results. Notable is the consistent better
results in Kirinyaga County where the mean score for the sampled schools was above
average. This was not the case for Busia County where both boys and girls posted poor
academic performance. Over the years, the mean score for the sampled schools in Busia
County was below average. Again, this signiﬁes the disadvantage that boys face in
pursuing post primary education.
12 J. MUYAKA ET AL.
One of the SCDEs in Busia County acknowledged that the county has not been doing
well in national examinations, although the past three years had witnessed a steady
improvement. This was captured in one of the interviews thus:
Primary education in Teso sub-county is below average though with notable improvements
for the last three years. We work with area leaders around to sensitize the community on
importance of taking their children to school (SCDE Teso South 11 October 2018).
Boys in the selected primary schools still posted better performance than girls. This
corroborates ﬁndings of earlier studies that had indicated that boys in the country still
post better performance (Fatuma et al. 2013). However, analysis of boys’ underperfor-
mance is reported to be more pronounced in contexts where both boys’ and girls’
participation in education is very high. Whereas overall performance shows boys are
better, literacy data show girls have, on average, higher reading achievement levels than
boys (Southern and Eastern African Consortium for Monitoring Educational Quality.
Conclusion and recommendations
The perception that boys are less engaged in education was conﬁrmed by school data on
enrolment, KCPE candidature, and school attendance. However, this was not the case for
academic performance as girls still lagged behind. Whereas boys still performed better
than girls in Busia County, the mean score was below the average mark of 250, high-
lighting the disadvantage that both girls and boys faced. Most boys were below average,
limiting their chances of transitioning to well-resourced secondary schools. The ﬁndings
on staﬃng revealed that schools had a poor male teacher–boy ratio. This meant boys had
fewer role models to emulate, a situation likely to have aﬀected negatively their school
behaviour and attitudes and contributed to their under participation in schools. The
following recommendations are therefore made:
Table 4. Mean score for the period 2013–2017.
Year Gender Kirinyaga Busia Total
2013 Boys 267.7 249.2 258.5
Girls 259.8 227.2 243.5
Total 273.4 252.1 262.7
2014 Boys 256.1 251.6 253.9
Girls 253.3 239.3 246.3
Total 264.9 243.4 254.1
2015 Boys 265.5 229.8 247.6
Girls 272.0 212.9 242.5
Total 278.2 248.4 263.3
2016 Boys 276.6 198.4 237.5
Girls 271.1 189.9 230.5
Total 274.8 217.1 246.0
2017 Boys 281.2 231.3 256.3
Girls 279.0 224.6 251.8
Total 279.6 236.8 258.2
(1) There is a need to increase eﬀorts to bring back more boys to schools and have
a range of compensatory measures to ensure that there is improvement in school
(2) The staﬃng oﬃcers at the Ministry of Education have to work closely with schools
to ensure fair distribution of both male and female teachers in primary schools in
Kenya. This is important in providing an adequate number of both male and
female role models to support education of boys and girls.
No potential conﬂict of interest was reported by the authors.
This work was supported by the University of Eldoret [Vice Chancellor’s Grant].
Jafred Muyaka http://orcid.org/0000-0001-9398-3453
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