How Knec can better safeguard data while releasing exam results

Education PS Dr Bellio Kipsang, CS Ezekiel Machogu, Tinderet MP Julius Melly, KNEC Chairman Julius Nyambundi and Higher Education PS Beatrice Inyangala during the release of 2022 KCSE Examinations results. [Samson Wire, Standard]

The last cycle of school results has taken place with the recent announcement of the Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education (KCSE) results by Education Cabinet Secretary (CS) Ezekiel Machogu.

This was after the initial results of the Kenya Certificate of Primary Education (KCPE) were released in December and the Kenya Primary School Education Assessment (KPSEA) results followed weeks later.

When announcing the KCPE results, the CS did not disclose the top schools nor the top students but only announced the highest marks scored by the top student. The CS also gave general performance matrices for the KCPE. The same was repeated at the KCSE results announcement.

For KPSEA, Kenya National Examinations Council (Knec) uploaded results on its online portal and schools accessed the same and printed the results for their students.

Amongst the reasons given by Mr Machogu for not ranking students and schools was that the ministry was managing high stakes from some categories of schools – implying that looking at different schools as competitors made the ministry an accomplice in free advertising of schools if it ranked the schools.

In addition, it was stated that grading was causing unnecessary anxiety.

This may have been surprising to some who may have thought that one of the reasons the ministry was not releasing individual student results was to comply with the privacy of the students.

In South Africa, the Department of Basic Education announced in 2022 that matric results would cease to be published on public platforms, stating that the decision was taken to comply with the Protection of Personal Information Act. However, the court reversed this and stated that the results should be published using the student’s individual exam number and not their names.

The issue of data protection doesn’t seem to be part of the reasons advanced by the CS in Kenya and indeed, the media usually invites parents to share the results of the students which are then published in the media outlets.

The TV in evening and newspapers the few days following the release of exams extensively cover the top performers in the exams. This seems to counter the argument by the CS that release of results causes anxiety for if the consumers of news were not are interested in the performance, how else would the media cover it?

Added to this is the need to balance the constitutional requirements about access to information. As per Article 35, Kenyans are entitled to access any information held by the State or any other person. Exam results may be classified as information that the public is interested in. Moreover, it is the legitimate expectation of most Kenyans that while announcing national examinations, the CS shall “name-drop” the top performers, most improved and other exceptional candidates.

Some may use the information for comparative analysis while selecting the schools to join, among others. Section 10A (1) and (3) of the Kenya National Examination Council Act obliges the CS to rank primary and secondary schools on academic performance in national examinations and to announce and publish the results and ranks of the schools.

On the other hand, the release of the KPSEA results saw less fanfare and the parents quietly collected their results from schools. Perhaps this heralds a new future in the release of exam results where general performance is discussed rather than the focus on individual student performance.

In the UK, the normal used be that upon release of the exam results, newspapers would carry photos of blonde girls jumping up with envelopes that contained their results. The narrative has changed with new photos but the same issues faced about privacy of results runs through many countries.

Whilst privacy and data protection doesn’t seem a priority in Kenya, as evidenced with private schools taking out advertisements in the dailies depicting the results and faces of students, it is nonetheless a risk factor for data breach.

The release of the exam results nationally could still be a tradition maintained within the safeguards of the Data Protection Act. This would mean obtaining informed consent before publication from the guardians and schools, minimising the information published, and disclosing third parties privy to the information for accountability purposes.

The CS may also publish guidelines in line with the Data Protection Act that could, for instance, omit the first and surname of the candidate whose name is published or substitutes it for the assigned index numbers. Alternatively, the CS could flirt with repealing sections 10A (3) Knec Act to be compliant with the law if he still holds the view that he need not publish the results.

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