If you are posted to Nairobi (maybe to the African headquarters of the United Nations) you’ll need to have deep pockets and a 4 x 4 but you get plenty of bang for your bucks, when it comes to international schools in Kenya’s capital.
There has never been anywhere that it is more important to heed the old estate agent adage ‘location, location, location’, than for families with school-age children, moving to Nairobi. The traffic is HORRENDOUS and the streets are a battlefield. The savvy solution is to get out your cheque book (also eyed up by the school bursar) and live in the most expensive spot that you can afford - the main reason being that you’ll have a chance of getting your child to school before lunchtime.
To stop the anxiety levels escalating it’s also a good idea, if there’s any money left from buying the house and paying the school fees, to purchase the most enormous 4 x 4 you can find so that, at least, you’ll be king of the road. The road drill is simple here; big is good, bigger is better, gigantic wins.
To keep you sane, the international schools and the more attractive places for families to live are attached at the hip (or at least by a fairly short drive). There are, of course, exceptions but most expat families choose to live either in Karen or Westlands, whilst those with the deepest pockets buy in Muthaiga.
The houses in all three areas tend to be large and surrounded by green gardens. Individuality appears to be frowned on as they usually look as if they came from the same cake mix, depending only on when they were built and the how expensive the ingredients were. The most obvious difference is that in Muthaiga, the gated compounds (or individual houses) are almost always surrounded by walls (rather than the neat hedges, elsewhere). Known as the ‘Beverley Hills’ of Nairobi, membership of the ex-colonial Muthaiga Country Club is definitely an extra bonus and an important asset, when it comes to making friends - both for you and your children.
Along with ticking the right social box, Muthaiga and Westlands offer a larger choice of easily reachable international schools and this IS important, given the state of the traffic. There are some that are easier to reach from Karen but it is definitely the underdog when it comes to range of choice, within easy driving distance.
English curriculum schools
English curriculum schools are in the majority, probably due to the influence of the 20th century colonials. Below are some of the schools that are popular with parents, together with the approximate driving time (given no traffic horrors), from the two areas that expats tend to live in. Several of them take weekly boarders so you could also take that into consideration when choosing where to live. Amongst them are the following:
Banda School – Karen slightly closer (around 30 minutes) than from Westlands/Muthaiga. Braeburn Garden Estate International School – 20 minutes from Westlands/Muthaiga. The other Braeburn schools, Braeburn School and Braeside School – both in the suburb of Lavington to the west of Nairobi and roughly the same driving distance from Westlands/Muthaiga and Karen. Brookhouse International School – roughly 25 minutes from both Westlands and Muthaiga. Hillcrest Preparatory School and Hillcrest Secondary School – significantly closer to Karen (20 minutes) than Westlands/Muthaiga (35 minutes). The opposite applies to Kenton College Preparatory School – much easier to reach from Westlands or Muthaiga (15 minutes) as opposed to 40 minutes from Karen. Nairobi Jaffery Academy – 20 minutes from Westlands/Muthaiga and half an hour from Karen. Peponi House Preparatory School – like Kenton, only 15 minutes from Westlands/Muthaiga but far longer from Karen (50 minutes). Peponi Secondary School – half an hour from Westlands/Muthaiga but pushing an hour and a half from Karen. The Aga Khan Academy is very close to the centre of the city. and the Durham International Nursery opened in 2020, as the first phase of a planned all-through school in the suburb of Thigiri.
American curriculum schools
The International School of Kenya is usually regarded as the Number One American school in Nairobi, helped by its proximity to the US Embassy and the United Nations headquarters. It is the most expensive international school in the country, as well as having one of the largest student cohorts. The closest alternative is Rossyln Academy, which has a strong Christian ethos and a high percentage of American students. Both of these are within easy reach of the Westland and Muthaiga districts but approximately an hour’s drive from Karen.
International schools away from the city
Kenya still has elements of harking back to its colonial past, as far as private international schools are concerned, some of which have definite links with the Empire, and this can become more apparent at the rural (think bush) boarding schools.
Pembroke House has been teaching the Common Entrance syllabus and sending children back to public schools in the UK as well as leading secondary schools in Kenya for nearly a century as has St Andrew’s Turi Preparatory School. At secondary level Greensteds International and St Andrew’s Turi Senior School have been doing an equally successful job of slotting graduates into top global universities. The odd one out amongst the ‘bush’ schools, not only because it is only a mere two hours from Nairobi, is Braeburn Imani International School in Thika, a recent addition to the Braeburn stable.
We haven’t come across any expatriates, recently, who send their children to Kenyan schools. National schools used to follow the 8-4-4 system but have recently changed the curriculum framework with a New Education System. Kenyans now follow two years of pre-primary and six years of primary (in English), roughly equivalent to British National Curriculum Year 1 – 6, and take 5 subjects: Maths, English, Kiswahili, Science, Social studies, and Christian Religious Education. Secondary level is divided into two, three year sections and university studies take a minimum of three years. The academic year starts in January, unlike the British and American schools, which follow their overseas counterparts.
For more information on these schools, please go to each school’s individual entry on the GSGI database or The GSGI article 'Best schools in Nairobi considered by expats'.
As you might expect from an ex-colonial stronghold, English curricula predominate in the international schools, with the vast majority offering A Levels. The primary schools (modelled on English preparatory schools) are still sending the majority of children to major British public schools for the next stage of their education.