KCSE results: A statistical aberration or not?

Teachers and parents hoist Larry Mule, one of the top students in last year's KCSE from Moi High School Kabarak, Nakuru, on January 8. He scored an A. [Kipsang Joseph, Standard]

One of the characteristics of a developed country is a shorter attention span.

Kenya has quickly joined that group. News ages fast, and there is always something new and hopefully exciting. Just watch our headlines or what’s shared in WhatsApp groups.

Let us have a look at the recently released Kenya Certificate for Secondary Education (KCSE) results before they become old news.  

The first observation is where they were released - in the counties. Just like national day celebrations, the release of KCSE results has been devolved.

However, the exam itself is centralised. Shall we have county-based exams one day? Many countries have no national exams.  

Two is the high number of Es compared with A. We had about one per cent of the candidates scoring A or A minus and 5.38 per cent scoring E, about five times.

Was that a statistical aberration? Statisticians and psychologists will suggest this data is not “normal.”

It should be bell-shaped with an equal percentage of As and Es.  We should either have more As or less Es. To psychologists, what percentage of the population is genius or gifted? This is not hard to explain. The Kenyan population is normal, with both highly gifted students and not so gifted.

External factors have played a role in giving these results more Es. Think of the 100 per cent transition.

Every student got into high school - the excited, the tired, the unacademic. This increased the chance of students performing badly. In the past, such students would drop out.

But whatever the score, going through high school is an achievement, an experience. 

School assets matter too, from technology to teachers and traditions. Societal expectations also matter. And that depends on the location of the school.

Think of the expectations of a student graduating from an international school and a CDF (Constituency Development Fund) school. Is this the new term for Harambee Schools? 

The third observation is the ambition of top students. They want to be doctors, engineers, lawyers and other prestigious jobs.

I hope one day our top students will aspire to be entrepreneurs and innovators. It’s one of the soft underbellies of our economic system.

We leave entrepreneurship and innovation to dropouts. Yet it’s one of the most difficult things to start and run. Think of starting Google, Microsoft, Toyota, Safaricom or Equity Bank.

There are no formulas or precedents like in law, medicine or engineering. Parents play a big role in firing the ambition of their children. 

Four is the slow death of competition. We are no longer ranking schools and candidates. That is one of the characteristics of the Competency-Based Curriculum (CBC) with teachers using the Likert-type scale from not exceeding expectations to exceeding expectations.

The argument was that ranking encouraged cheating. But the truth is that competition uplifts the standards of education and keeps the gifted (the A and A-) busy. 

Should we not allow such students to take extra subjects or even university courses while in high school?  

Fourth, we should think of synchronising our university and high school systems. High schools start the year in January. Universities in September.

This disadvantages students who want to apply to top universities elsewhere. Check the application deadline for say Harvard or Oxford.

I am not advocating brain drain, but students should have choices. We had a chance to synchronise the two systems during Covid-19. We did not.  

Five is private schooling vs. public schooling.  I have overheard some parents arguing that public schools are preferable to private schools. Their strange argument is that in public schools, there is “suffering,” which makes the students tough and manly. 

They add that some schools make students “broilers.” This belief seems to have a Judeo-Christian origin. Our traditions dovetail with that reasoning, the pain through the rite of passage.  

Yet the leaders and captains of the industry in developed countries go through private or semi-private schooling.

And most jobs are created by the private sector, which in Kenya is about 80 per cent. The same discussion adds that taking a child to a private school is “wasting money.”

Does that apply to taking someone to a private hospital? Three decades after our economy was liberalized, we are yet to absorb the ethos of capitalism except its soft underbelly - nepotism. 

Capitalism is about pursuing your interests as society benefits.  

Finally, the big question is what is next for each KCSE graduate. There are several pathways.

Some students will go to university and have four years to chart their paths. Others will go to TVETs, which are slowly losing their stigma as built for the academically ungifted.

Some will drop and start the “rest of their lives.” Whichever pathway, it’s time to face the hard reality away from the “protected” school environment.  

Let us not forget to congratulate the “Covid-19” KCSE candidates. 

By completing their high school through the pandemic, they were prepared for any future shock. The best is yet to come. It’s morning in their lives. It’s time to actualise their dreams (and exclude nightmares).