Children attend nursery school, or kindergarten in the private sector, until they are five years old. This lasts one to three years (KG1, KG2 and KG3) and is financed privately because there has been no government policy regarding it until recently. There is much celebration and a graduation ceremony at the end of KG3 when the children are ready to join class one in primary school.
Basic formal education starts at age six years and lasts 12 years comprising eight years in primary school and four years in high school or secondary school. Primary school is free in public schools and those who exit at this level can join a vocational youth/village polytechnic or make their own arrangements for an apprenticeship program and learn a trade such as tailoring, carpentry, motor vehicle repair, brick-laying and masonry for about two years. Those who complete high school can join a polytechnic or other technical college and study for three years or proceed directly to the university and study for four years. Graduates from the polytechnics and colleges can then join the workforce and later obtain a specialised higher diploma qualification after a further one to two years of training, or join the university – usually in the second or third year of their respective course. The higher diploma is accepted by many employers in place of a bachelors degree and direct or accelerated admission to post-graduate studies is possible in some universities.
Public universities in Kenya are highly commercialised institutions and only a small fraction of qualified high school graduates are admitted on limited government-sponsorship into programmes of their choice. Most are admitted into the social sciences, which are cheap to run, or as self-sponsored students paying the full cost of their studies. Most qualified students who miss-out opt for middle-level diploma programmes in public or private universities, colleges and polytechnics.