30 million words gap

What is the difference in the number of words (not unique) a child from an affluent background has heard more than the child from a poor background when they are just about to turn 4 years old? 30 million according to a fascinating study from University of Kansas researchers Betty Hart and Todd Risley who entered 42 homes of various socio-economic backgrounds in order to come to the conclusion. They assessed the ways in which daily exchanges between a parent and a child shape language and vocabulary development. Their findings are that at the beginning of 4 years there was disparities between the number of words spoken as well as the messages conveyed by two children from different backgrounds. A very fascinating argument from follow up studies that have shown that these differences have lasting effects on the child performance later in life is that affluent parents have more time to talk and read to their children as well as more residual income to buy books for their children. Additionally, unlike poor parents who encourage their children to work hard in school as it is their only way out of poverty, affluent parents encourage their children to engage in extra-curricular activities which open up their minds to new and different sets of vocabulary that assist in their development. It can be said that by poor parents encouraging their children to concentrate more on school work they are unknowingly putting them at a disadvantage.

How do these children compare during early childhood development education and lower primary? Do they access the same facilities with regards to teacher attention and access to books? The ministry of Education’s Statistical Handbook 2014 can help asnwer most of these questions.

Early Childhood Development Education

Pupil and teacher population

There are a total of 114,831 early childhood development education (ECDE) teachers in the country 42.02 % of whom are in private schools. The total number of children enrolled in ECDE classes is 3,019,856 which translates to a gross enrollment rate of 75.57% and a net enrollment rate of 70.85%.

Baby Class

There are 862,724 pupils in baby class out of which 50.41% are boys.


There are 1,079,215 pupils in nursery class out of which 51.07% are boys.

Pre Unit

There are 1,077,917 pupils in Pre Unit out of which 51.71% are boys.

Noticeably the proportion of girls reduces as students progress to higher levels of education. Below is the proportion and number of pupils in each level of education.

Enrollment Level Population Proportion
Baby Class 862,724 28.57%
Nursery 1,079,215 35.74%
Pre Unit 1,077,917 35.69%


Pupil to teacher ratio


Many counties have ratios that are close to the national average while those with the worst ratios are located on the northern and eastern regions of the county with Garissa and Turkana having the worst two ratios. Garissa (the county with the second worst ratio) has more than 20 more pupils per teacher than the third worst ratio found in Samburu county.

County Pupil to Teacher ratio
Turkana 86.1
Garissa 68.7
Samburu 44.2
Wajir 41.2
Marsabit 40.8

The top 5 counties with the best ratios are listed in the table below. Nakuru has 10 less pupils per teacher than the second best ratio found in Bomet county.

County Pupil to Teacher ratio
Nakuru 16.7
Bomet 18.2
Kiambu 18.8
Nyeri 19.2
Vihiga 19.5

Notably the difference between the best ratio 16.7 and the worst ratio 86.1 is as big as the second worst ratio found in Garissa which points to the region being under resourced.

Lower primary school

There are 39,802,984 pupils in primary schools. The total number of pupils in lower primary schools are 8,038,972 and can be drilled down below:

Classes population
Class 1 2,765,146
Class 2 2,649,490
Class 3 2,624,336

It can be argued that availing language books books to children in lower primary schools, aids their learning in later years. All subjects but one are taught in English with Swahili being the language that doesn’t cross cut subjects. Nevertheless, both languages are part of Kenya’s official languages and thus are the medium through which government communications occur and therefore are very important. Additionally, Swahili is one of the most popular African languages. Furthermore, Information on the web (and in libraries) are availed in those languages and therefore learners are hypothetically expected to have better command of both as early as possible.

Schools are the equaling factor for children from poor and rich backgrounds and thus can help fill the divide for these learners. Counties are therefore ranked based on the emphasis they place on the language subjects, this is assuming children actually read the books. Additionally, it is taken note that given that 4 of 5 subjects are taught in English, it can be assumed those are useful materials for learning the language. This post will however selectively downgrade this significance on the assumptions that pupils can only follow through if they understand the language used.


Garissa and Marsabit are counties where English is the least resourced subject with the lowest books to pupils ratio. Additionally,  math and swahili lead in most counties as the least resourced subjects.

The most resourced subjects are English and Swahili as they are the most resourced subjects in most counties.


It is difficult to ascertain the proportion of these books that are story books which are very useful in language development. It is definitely a good sign that most counties have prioritized the languages however caution should be taken not to do so at the disadvantage of other subjects.

Are our schools well resourced?

Prestone Adie

I drive Data Analytics where I surface stories from data that might not be immediately obvious. With a background in Actuarial Science I'm proficient in R and Python for data analysis and takes avid interest in anything data. Find me on twitter Follow @AdiePrestone where we can talk data, street food, cars and books.

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