By now I have visited nearly 20 public schools in Kenya, having worked closely and preformed a thorough analyses on 6 of them (Precious Blood, Saint Patricks, Anwa, Ntumburi, Leparua, and Kipsing). With each analyses, one of most important elements I look for and assess is the viability of an improvement in overall academic performance and specifically in those areas pertaining to humanities. Naturally, a reliable starting point in gauging that is looking at the overall success of the school at the time of assessment.

In this regard, I have come to notice a pattern of indicators that correlate to a school with a better performance in exam scores.

1. Leadership of the Headmaster. In my opinion this is one of the strongest indicators. This is not to say that the strong leadership and vision of a headmaster always equates in stronger grades, but rather, poor leadership has, in every school I saw, correlated with poor grades.

2. Enthusiasm of Teachers. This ties in slightly with #1. I have found that when the headmaster shows poor leadership skills, he cannot control and inspire his teachers. Whereas, every headmaster I encountered with strong leadership skills had a better record of teacher attendance (yes, teachers sometimes just don’t show up), and classes with higher mean scores.

3. A Feeding Program. There is ample data to support this. Having a feeding program at a school drastically increases the consistent attendance of students, who sometimes only go to school because they are being fed, and that is their only meal for the day. Logically, another aspect of this is that children suffering from hunger and malnutrition are usually too tired to learn as effectively as those who are well fed.

4. Boarding. Again, there are numerous studies that have been conducting supporting this claim that public boarding schools outperform public day schools in developing countries. Being able to keep the children at school ensures attendance, supervision, a separation from cultural influences that prevent children from coming to school regularly, and greater access to teachers and resources.

5. Consistent Attendance. This ties in to #4 and #3, and intuitively, it makes sense that students with good attendance records perform better than students without. This argument can logically be extended to conclude (as I have seen), that schools without boarding in an area that is predominantly nomadic have much poorer attendance records (as the children are pulled from school as their families move with the herds) and therefore much lower mean scores.

What I have found so interesting after reflecting on these factors is that it isn’t necessarily a lack of funds that makes a school sink, but rather, poor leadership combined with a lack of funds.