In 1963 the Kenyan government promised free primary education to its people. This promise did not take effect until 2003. Citizens are expected to contribute to the education fund by paying fees, taxes, and labour services. After contributing, most parents did not have the money to pay for their children’s education and were subsequently locked out of the school system.
The system of education was introduced by British colonists. After Kenya's independence on December 12, 1963, the Ominde Commission was set up to make changes in the educational system. This commission focused on national identity and unity. Changes in the subject content of history and geography were made to reflect the building of a national identity. Between 1964 to 1985, the 7-4-2-3-system was adopted – seven years of primary, four years of lower secondary, two years of upper secondary, and three years of university. All schools had a common curriculum.
In 1981, the Presidential Working Party on the Second University was commissioned to look at both the possibilities of setting up a second university in Kenya. They were also responsible for reforming the entire education system. The committee recommended that the 7-4-2-3 system be changed to an 8-4-4 system (eight years in primary, four years in secondary, and four years in university education). Table 1.2 shows the structure of the 8-4-4 system. The 8-4-4 system was launched in January 1985 and emphasized vocational subjects. It was assumed that this new structure would enable school dropouts at all levels to be either self-employed or to get employment in the non-formal sector. In January 2003, the Government of Kenya announced the introduction of free primary education. As a result, primary school enrolment increased by about 70%. However, secondary and tertiary education enrollment has not increased proportionally due to the fact that payment is still required for attendance. In class eight of primary school the Kenya Certificate of Primary Examination (K.C.P.E.) is written. The result of this examination is needed for placement at secondary school. In form four of secondary schools the Kenya Certificate of Secondary Examination (K.C.S.E.) is written. Students sit examinations in eight subjects. Private schools in Kenya cater generally for the middle and upper classes as well as the ex-patriate community. Many are largely affiliated with distinct religious organisations such as Oshwal Academy which is owned and managed by the OERB of the Oshwal community (Kenyan-Indians following Jainism) as well as various Catholic (Saint Mary's School Nairobi), Missionary (Rift Valley Academy) and Islamic (Aga Khan Academy) affiliated schools. These organisations are generally in charge of funding for the schools, and do not usually bias the curriculum or activities to reflect these ties, especially for non-adherent students. Most private day schools in Kenya are located within Nairobi and Mombasa, with boarding schools generally located in the countryside or the outskirts of town. This is a clear parallel to the British tradition of upper and upper-middle class families sending their children to expensive boarding schools that offer extensive grounds and facilities. The schools themselves are similar in a sense to the tradition of British public schools, with a lot of private schools in Nairobi either being based on the public school form, e.g. Brookhouse School, or having once been British public schools under colonial rule, e.g. Saint Mary's School, Nairobi and Kenton College.