Kenyan Education
Kenyan Anomalies

Several unusual features of the Kenyan system – such as the long gap between high school and university – may affect the way KenSAP students compare with rival international admission candidates. For one thing, the absence of British-style A-level university preparation, which was abolished in Kenya’s educational restructuring in 1989, means that Kenyans face the SAT with two fewer years of secondary education than most Commonwealth students. This especially hurts the Kenyans in the Reading/Writing section of the test, where two more years of secondary instruction in English might compensate for deficiencies in the current Kenyan curriculum, which neglects humanities in favor of math and science. (The medium of instruction in all subjects is English, but there are practically no first-language English teachers in the entire country.)

In addition, Kenyan candidates may be handicapped by the very straightforwardness of the country’s university admissions. The KCSE is all-important; nothing else counts. Thus, the resume building that is second nature to high school students in America and elsewhere is utterly unknown in Kenya. If a Kenyan student pursues an extra-curricular interest, it is a genuine interest, unalloyed by college admission considerations. But for that reason, the student’s list of activities may seem unusually short. Moreover, since recommendations are irrelevant for Kenyan university admission, teachers are accustomed to writing no more than a perfunctory sentence or two, along the lines of, “Good student, well behaved.” And teachers’ evaluations often seem oddly skewed by a misplaced concern about overpraising. A student who breaks the school record on the KCSE, for example, might be rated “Good” or “Very good.”

For all this, American college admissions officers have generally been able to see beyond the apparent shortcomings in KenSAP applicants’ files; in the past ten years, every one of the program’s 114 candidates has been admitted with full aid to highly selective colleges. And so far, notwithstanding a few missteps, the matriculated students have shown themselves well able to make the vast leap from rural Kenya to the most competitive American colleges.