VIDEO: Safety of learners top priority as KCPE exams start

Wearing face masks, enhanced spacing between candidates in the examination room and heightened surveillance to check impersonation are some of the realities in this year’s national exams that start today.

Moderating the tests to factor in the time learners lost due to closure of schools following the outbreak of coronavirus is another challenge the government must confront to avoid mass failures in the tests.

It is also expected that the number of pregnant girls sitting the exams will go up thanks to prolonged school closures that exposed them to sexual activities.

The hope of vaccinating all teachers before the start of the exams seems to have flopped, further pushing the government to tighten compliance of health protocols. Overall, the safety of learners and the personnel managing the examinations remain top features.

Some one million primary school children will today start their Kenya Certificate of Primary Education (KCPE) tests amid safety and logistical concerns as the third wave of Covid-19 sweeps the country. But the government assured KCPE candidates and the 700,000 students who will sit the Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education (KCSE) exams of their safety.

The Standard has established that spacing in examination rooms will be adjusted to minimise chances of Covid-19 infections. Kenya National Examinations Council (Knec) has always prescribed a sitting arrangement of 1.22 metres between candidates while invigilators should supervise between 15-40 candidates.

Kakamega Primary School headteacher Dickson Wanyangu addresses Standard Eight candidates at the school ahead of their KCPE exams that start today. [Benjamin Sakwa, Standard]

Basic Education PS Julius Jwan said schools have been advised to enhance spacing of candidates by spreading them out to ensure social distancing.

“Schools have adequate space which they should use to spread out the candidates to ensure proper social distancing is maintained,” said Jwan.

He directed that all pregnant girls be allowed to sit exams and that school heads support them in case of any emergency. “We have advised school managers to support the girls in cases of emergencies by taking them to nearby dispensaries.”

The big test, however, remains enforcing examination regulation that everyone participating in administration of the tests should wear face masks.

Nakuru County Director of Education Fredrick Osewe adrresses candidates ahead of the KCPE exam at Moi Primary School on March 22, 2021. [Kipsang Joseph, Standard]

“All candidates, invigilators, supervisors, security and centre managers will be required to wear masks in full compliance with the Covid-19 protocols,” said Jwan.

This is in line with new examination rules released by Knec, which require that candidates wear masks which will only be lowered during frisking to allow for identification of the candidates.

“Candidates must wear face masks properly throughout the examination. Refusal shall constitute examination irregularity. Candidates with hearing impairment sitting KCSE exams may be required to remove their masks when taking the practical signing examination,” Knec rules state.

Similarly, invigilators and school staff will be required to wear masks which shall only be removed when signing candidates with hearing impairment.

But it has emerged that some of the Ministry of Health protocols such as wearing of masks may give way to irregularities. Top Education ministry officials said masks may be used to cover up impersonators.

Education CS George Magoha warned that they were aware of plans to cheat through what he termed an ‘advanced cheating scheme of impersonation.’

“We are aware that as we plan here for effective administration of exams to protect credibility of the tests, they are busy planning how to cheat,” said Magoha.

Education Cabinet Secretary George Magoha inspects KCPE exam packages at Thika West in Kiambu County on March 22, 2021. [Dennish Ochieng, Standard]

The CS also said the ministry has discovered that some candidates were planning to write answers on the masks.

“We know some of you are planning to use masks to cheat. Do not make such an attempt because we shall check you up and if we catch you it’s up to you,” said Magoha, who spoke at Alliance Girls High School.

Parents pleaded with Knec to moderate the exams in a way that will avoid mass failures. “We requested that even as the children put in efforts to work hard and to recover lost time, Knec should also ensure learners are not demoralised after the examinations,” said Nicholas Maiyo, the National Parents Association chairperson.

Kenya National Union of Teachers (Knut), Kenya Union of Post Primary Education Teachers (Kuppet) and Kenya Women Teachers Association (Kewota) asked the government to ensure safety of children.

Knut Secretary-General Wilson Sossion called on Kenyans to support delivery of credible national exams. “We wish candidates good health and success. We assure them of our support as they they write the exams in the extraordinary circumstances of Covid-19,” said Sossion.

Kewota CEO Benta Opande said more still needs to be done to keep teachers and learners safe. “Emergency medical services should be put on standby in examination centres,” said Opande.

Kuppet Secretary-General Akello Misori said: “We call on teachers to collaborate with authorities for the safe administration of exams.”

Meanwhile, Knec has acknowledged logistical challenges in the national tests. In its report on preparedness for administration of the 2020 exams, Knec cites the Covid-19 pandemic and the annual long rains as some of the challenges they face.

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