Distributing School Uniforms to Children in Kenya


In Kenya, access to education has been uneven. In the two decades after independence, the country made steady progress toward equal education opportunities. In the 1990s, this trend reversed significantly as the costs of education were largely pushed from the government to households. By the 2002 presidential elections, the opposition party ran on a platform of universal primary education, among other issues, and won the election. International donors, long absent because of poor governance and systemic corruption, reengaged in the education sector.

Free primary education was rolled out in 2003. The policy allowed children to be admitted without charge and banned all levies. It lifted the biggest constraint to attending school—household cash outlays for school fees; yet households retained the incidental costs of attending school such as meals, school supplies, and mandatory uniforms.

Mandatory uniforms are the center of a long-standing dialogue among parents, educators, politicians, and policy makers. The policy is not universally enforced; headmasters have the discretion to shame, dismiss, and refuse children for not wearing a uniform (at an approximate cost of US$6) to school. Recently, Kenya’s politicians have given voice to including students regardless of whether they wear a uniform, but no clear policy has evolved.

Development Challenge

The development challenge for Kenya is reducing absenteeism and raising test scores, especially for poor children and for girls, in a free primary education system (World Bank 2003, 2011).


A well-funded Dutch nongovernmental organization, ICS, has operated in East Africa since 1980 and has managed the Child Sponsorship Program in western Kenya since 1996. Increasing school attendance is the main education objective of the program.

To reflect the new government policy established in 2003, the Child Sponsorship Program adjusted donor support from school fees to school-related expenses and uniforms. "Uniform provision is a challenge that children across Africa face, and so this intervention may be more generalizable" (Evans, Kremer, and Ngatia 2008).

Delivery Challenges

This delivery note analyzes the following key implementation challenges and examines how they were overcome:

  • Beneficiary targeting. A peaceful and democratic election brought change to Kenya. The incoming government did not have experience targeting beneficiaries, collecting and disaggregating data, or running outreach campaigns. Identifying children in need of a school uniform and assessing the uniform’s effect on student attendance and test scores was a challenge.
  • Bureaucratic structure. With a poorly governed and notably corrupt bureaucracy, the incoming government struggled to meet the demand for teachers, classrooms, and administrators.
  • Budgeting. In Kenya, the effect of a 2003 universal primary education policy was immediate: an additional 1.4 million children enrolled in school (7.2 million total). The new government inherited tight fiscal space.

Addressing Delivery Challenges

The following steps were undertaken to mitigate the delivery challenges related to beneficiary targeting:

  • ICS designed a questionnaire for all children eligible in 12 selected schools (proxy census).
  • Orphans—children who had lost one or both parents—were automatically selected. The remaining beneficiaries were selected through a lottery.
  • Sponsored children were required to be present on the day of enrollment for the field representative to take a photo and issue them an identification card.
    • If a child failed to appear, he or she was disqualified and replaced with an eligible student who was present.
    • If a sponsored child dropped out of school, a child who had not previously been sponsored by the program (because of transferring schools or having a parent who died after the census was taken) was selected.
  • Field officers made unannounced visits to each school multiple times each year and recorded attendance, thus facilitating annual per-child attendance records.
  • Detailed recordkeeping produced five robust datasets and thereby allowed for discrepancies to be reconciled (that is, children sometimes have several names and provide different combinations in the data-gathering exercises) by hand and with the aid of a computer program.
  • Parameters to measure program success (reduced absenteeism and higher test scores) also reflected the community’s understanding of the importance of sending and keeping children in primary school.
    • Absenteeism among children who owned a uniform fell by 38 percent and among children who never owned a uniform by nearly 30 more points or 64 percent.
    • Test scores reflected positive and significant effects, especially for poorer students and girls (Evans, Kremer, and Ngatia 2008).
    • A seven-year-old girl who entered primary school in 2003 did so with an adolescent fertility rate of 103.4 live births per 1,000 women ages 15–19. In 2015, when she was age 19, the rate had decreased 13.2 percent.

The following steps were undertaken to mitigate the delivery challenges related to bureaucratic structure:

  • ICS actively communicated with the 12 schools before implementation, explaining enrollment sequencing, schedules, and requirements.
  • A field operative was paid approximately US$350 per month by ICS to work with each school and with sponsored students, helping to capture defined data, to provide hard evidence of donor dollar worth, and to fit and distribute the school uniforms.
  • To overcome the culture of not sending children to school and of distrust, the donor extended services to the larger community. Several times a year, two nurses provide basic care to children and adults at the schools.
    • An agriculture representative organizes student clubs to grow crops.
    • Each school receives a grant for classroom construction and for desks.
    • Jobs in tailoring (uniforms), health care, agriculture, and construction are created in the immediate economy.

The following step was undertaken to mitigate the delivery challenges related to budgeting:

  • The fully funded donor program ran on a school level, piloting 12 schools that were reflective of rural education across Kenya.

Please click on the following link for the related CPI case study: https://www.centreforpublicimpact.org/case-study/distributing-school-uniforms-children-kenya/