Our examination model is in need of a paradigm shift

In life, few threads are as intricately woven as those of religion and exams. As we traverse the journey of life, exams, especially in our formative years, often take precedence, influencing our paths and defining our identities.

Despite the evolution of education systems and societal norms, examinations continue to hold sway over individuals, shaping destinies and leaving an indelible mark. In Kenya, six decades post-independence, we find ourselves grappling with an educational cornerstone that remains steadfast—the enduring prominence of exams.

The enduring legacy of exams in Kenya is a testament to their deeply rooted significance. While our nation has undergone constitutional reviews, technological revolutions, and educational overhauls, the sanctity of exams remains untouched.

National exams, marked by their inherent "nationality," are a ritual that binds every Kenyan child. The presence of police during these exams reinforces the cult-like reverence accorded to this educational rite of passage.

Unlike higher education or professional exams, national exams leave little room for choice. A staggering 26 million Kenyans, almost half the population, sat the Kenya Certificate of Primary Education (KCPE). The paucity of options in exam selection is a stark reality, with only a privileged few afforded the luxury of choosing the exam path for their children.

A pivotal debate arises: Why not provide choices in exams, empowering parents and students to select exams that align with their aspirations and aptitudes?

The proposal envisions transforming the Kenya National Examination Council into a regulatory body akin to the Capital Markets Authority. Any reputable institution, such as universities, should be authorized to offer exams, fostering healthy competition, elevating standards, and catalyzing innovation.

Internationally, examples abound where diverse examination bodies coexist, contributing to a vibrant educational landscape. The SAT or ACT exams in the United States illustrate the benefits of a diversified examination system. The potential for new examining bodies to generate revenue, akin to established entities like ACCA or CFA, signals a shift toward financial sustainability and self-reliance in the education sector.

The advent of online exams represents an untapped frontier in Kenya. The opportunity was missed with the lapse of the laptops in schools initiative. Imagining the cost reductions, accessibility improvements, and potential for curbing malpractices associated with online exams prompts reflection on what could have been. The feasibility of online exams, exemplified by global tests like GMAT or GRE, remains a tantalizing prospect for the future.

A radical proposal suggests leveraging the expertise of teachers trained in tests and measurements. The Comprehensive Basic Education teachers, trained to conduct termly assessments, could become instrumental in shaping the evaluation landscape. Trusting teachers to assess and grade their students may eradicate the prevalent lack of trust that underpins the national examination system.

The reevaluation of exams aims to transform the educational narrative, fostering a focus on skills development rather than mere exam preparation. Drawing inspiration from countries like Canada, the USA, and Germany, where national exams are not the norm, Kenya envisions a paradigm shift. Learning becomes dynamic, engaging, and meaningful, as students are liberated from the shackles of exam-centric education.

Exams, often likened to a lottery, have high stakes for those who secure top grades, while others face exclusion and stigmatisation. The proposal to "de-lotterise" exams seeks to redefine their purpose. Exams should serve as instruments for identifying students' capabilities, matching them with suitable careers, and signaling their skills to the job market.

The objectivity inherent in exams, mirroring the efforts and intelligence of students, underpins their credibility. Any erosion of confidence in national exams could inadvertently elevate foreign qualifications, potentially leading to a "dollarisation" of education. Safeguarding the reputation of Kenyan qualifications is paramount in fostering confidence, both domestically and internationally.

As we navigate the complex intersection of education, exams, and societal expectations, a critical juncture emerges. The reevaluation of exams in Kenya envisions a future where choices, innovation, and skills development take precedence over the prevailing exam-centric paradigm.

This transformative journey seeks not only to redefine education in Kenya but also to bolster the confidence of future generations, ensuring that our graduates are equipped to navigate a globalised world with resilience and self-assurance. The debate is no longer confined to exam halls; it resonates in the corridors of change, where the future of education beckons.