Top head teacher suspended over allegations of exam irregularities

Nyambaria High School Principal Charles Onyari at his office. [Stanley Ongwae, Standard]

The country's best teacher was suspended as he oversaw the KCSE examination even as detectives said they had unearthed irregularities in the administration of tests in Nyamira County.

Education Cabinet Secretary Ezekiel Machogu on Wednesday confirmed the suspension of Nyambaria High School Principal Charles Onyari as the school centre manager, claiming the ministry would not condone 'nonsense'.

"If you do bad things, we do not tolerate nonsense," said Machogu.

A senior education official in the region alleged the suspension was due to claims of suspicious activities that threatened the integrity of the exams at the centre.

"I can only confirm to you that it is true, he has been suspended as a centre manager. I cannot give you further details, but it borders on exam irregularities," said the official.

It also emerged that a sub-county director in Nyamira was also suspended in the web that detectives said they have unearthed.

Security officers said some of the cases in the region involve centre managers, while others directly affect candidates.

Nyamira County Commissioner Onesimus Kyatha said there were allegations of malpractice from various institutions that were being investigated.

"We should be cautious with the examinations because it is the life of the candidates. Any information we share with the public should be verified," Kyatha said.

Nyamira County Criminal Investigations Officer Paul Makonge, said they are investigating different cases at Gekomi Technical Secondary, Nyambaria Boys National School, and Sironga Girls.

Detectives said two candidates from Nyambaria were allegedly linked to some foreign material that was found near the examinations centre.

"We recorded statements from the two candidates before we released them to continue with the rest of their examinations," Makonge said.

What is however shocking is that the suspended teacher and his school were ranked top in last year's KCSE examinations.

Nyambaria was ranked top in 2022 KCSE. The school had a mean score of 10.89, recording an improvement from its previous results of 9.31.

Some 28 students in the school scored an A (plain), 383 students got an A (minus) and 76 got a B+. The last student scored a B (plain).

The school toppled traditional academic giants to stand out as the top school nationally in the 2022 KCSE examinations.

This glory has now been put on the line with a shadow of doubt following the suspension of the teacher.

The decision by the government also raises many questions about the institution's conduct during national examinations.

Every year, TSC vets all teachers who are deployed to oversee the examinations across the country.

"For the purpose of the 2023 national examinations, the TSC has vetted a total of 223,223 teachers who will serve as supervisors and invigilators while 37,731 will perform the role of examiners," Dr Macharia said.

During World Teachers Day, on October 5, Onyari was among several teachers honoured by the TSC.

He bagged an award as the top school head nationally where TSC honoured 592 teachers in both primary and secondary schools.

Dr Macharia said he was recognised for his exceptional leadership and commitment to providing quality education.

By close of business on Wednesday, both the TSC and the KNEC had not issued any official communication on the incident.

In an earlier statement, Dr Macharia, said centre managers were tasked with the responsibility to ensure collection of papers is done without compromise to any procedures.

During the examination period, only centre and deputy centre managers are allowed to be in school.

TSC also noted that in this year's KCSE, it had rotated supervisors and invigilators.

"No supervisor or invigilator is retained in the centre they served during last year's national examinations to ensure annual rotation of staff," Nancy Macharia said.

However, MPs last week questioned the decision to retain school principals as the centre managers.

The developments also come after the National Assembly Education Committee released its report on investigations of examination irregularities.

In the report tabled before parliament on October 5, 2023, it emerged that some schools collect money from parents to cheat in examinations.

The report said the money is used to 'fuel' examiners, invigilators, security officers, supervisors, Ministry of Education and Knec officials to facilitate exam malpractice.

Meanwhile, police in Migori yesterday arrested 14 teachers over malpractices in the ongoing KCSE exams.

Five teachers, a centre manager and invigilators of St Mary's Mabera High School in Kuria West Sub-County had their phones confiscated as police probed their alleged involvement in exam irregularities.

While confirming the arrest, Kuria West Sub-County Police Commander Reuben Bett said the phones were suspected to be containing exam marking sheets.

The arrest was made when candidates at the school were continuing with their examinations. "They are 14 in number plus others who were not in that centre," Mr Bett said.

[Olivia Odhiambo, Eric Abuga, Stanley Ongwae, Lewis Nyaundi, Anne Atieno and Mike Kihaki]

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