As much as 50% of the Kenyan population is under the age of 18. Most of these young people are in primary or secondary school. In 2003 the government mandated free primary education and in 2008 this was extended to secondary education in public schools. Boarding school fees are not included, nor are uniforms, school supplies and other infrastructure expenses. At the end of Standard 8 primary school students are ranked based on comprehensive national exams administered over several days. Two weeks of strenuous standardized national exams are required on completion of secondary school Form 4.  This is a stressful time for students since the results of these tests can determine their entire future, including which school they can attend and whether they can get a scholarship or some support for further education.  

Life is not easy for young people as they make their way into the world after graduation from secondary school.  A recent Health Metrics and Evaluation study in Kenya cited not only the increased number of youth dying from HIV/Aids but also other risks including obesity, mental health disorders, high unemployment, and the risk of radicalization.  Add to this the challenges of poverty, bullying, peer pressure, discrimination, lack of skills training, and limited job opportunities.

Many secondary school students may say that they want to be doctors, pilots, engineers, and teachers.  Yet they lack the basic skills and financial support to accomplish their career goals. One of the greatest concerns of secondary school students is worrying about what they will do after graduation. They have big questions to answer: What do I want to do with my life? How can I find the funding or a sponsor so I can go to college or university? Is a professional school a better choice for me?  How can I find a job?

A special section in today’s Daily Nation newspaper provides a “reality check” for young people related to employment. According to the article, Kenya’s unemployment rate is 40%, yet people age 15-34 constitute 70% of those who do not have jobs.  Students are coming out of secondary school without the essential communication competencies, analytic ability, creative problem-solving and negotiation skills needed in business and industry.  This is the subject of much discussion and debate.

What can be done to prepare students in secondary school to develop a plan, make realistic decisions about their life and career and help them get the practical skills they need to find a job?  Should they try to enroll in a technical school or a specialized training institute rather than a university? Could an apprenticeship or internship provide valuable experience?  Would volunteering with a community service organization or nonprofit help young people gain some real-world skills? What entrepreneurial opportunities are in the informal Jua Kali sector?   

Africa Circle of Hope(ACOHF), which now sponsors 55 students with scholarships at Rubate Secondary School, will also be developing workshops and resource materials to start career planning and skill development that could begin in Form 2 and 3.   On April 29 ACOHF conducted a one-day workshop for 83 secondary school students in Form 1 through Form 4 from Rubate and other secondary schools attended by young people from Good Samaritan Children’s Home in Mathare.  We are also collaborating with the MustardSeed Program, which is focused on helping graduates from St. Aloysius Secondary School in Kibera write resumes, get interviews and find jobs.  We recognize the need to do more to assist students in making decisions and planning for the difficult transition from classroom to career.

The major concerns of these secondary students are about what they do after graduation from Form 4.  Many want to go to college or university, but for most that is only a dream as they may sit idle and discouraged trying to find a job or waiting for a sponsor.

We know the urgent need for career planning and skill development as well as new options for graduates. The challenge is how can we best serve this need with limited funds and resources.  Job training and work experience are critical to moving out of poverty, making a better life and contributing to the community.  The youth of Kenya are a most valuable resource. The future is in their hands.