More than 852,000 children aged between six and 17 years are out of school, the Education ministry has said.
Ministry director of primary education Habat Abdi attributed the grim statistics to poverty, diseases and indiscipline.
He said Mandera county was worst hit by the trend with 124,800 children (15 per cent of total primary school population) out of school.
Turkana, Garissa and Wajir counties follow with 10 per cent, 8.9 per cent and 6.7 per cent, respectively. Others scoring poorly are West Pokot, Isiolo, Marsabit, Tana River and Nairobi counties.
Addressing the ongoing Kenya Primary Schools Heads Association (Kepsha) annual conference in Mombasa yesterday, Abdi said a third of the 852,000 children are living with disabilities.
Others are girls from extremely poor households, children with un-cooperating parents and children who drop out of school due to sickness and indiscipline cases.
“The number is alarming, Mandera alone represent 15 per cent of the children who do not go to school in the entire country,” he said, adding:“Six out 10 children are out of school due to poverty. Education is not a priority in these families. Many of them are in dire need of help.”
Abdi said for Kenya to resolve the problem, parents should be encouraged to enrol children to school early.
“Children who join Early Childhood Development Centres (ECD) are likely to enrol for primary education. In these centres, children get adequate nourishment and psychological stimulation, thereby are able to learn. They are well prepared for school,” he said.
The education official called for alternative learning programmes, informal education and mobile schools for nomadic communities, multi-grading systems and inclusive education for those living with disabilities.
In the case of informal education, learners are allowed to do their chores during the day and learn in the evening after the other children leave.
“Lechukuti Pastoralists School in Samburu is a good example, where programmes run from 5pm to 8pm. During the day, they are allowed to go and herd cattle,” said Abdi.