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National examinations and our world of inequalities

By Wesonga Robert | October 12th 2018

In the words of Greek philosopher Aristotle, the worst form of inequality is to try to make unequal things equal. The tale of inequalities in our institutions of basic education is, first and foremost, a retold story.

We live in a country that knowingly or unknowingly celebrates all manner of socio-economic disparities. In the case of our schools, it is examinations more than any other thing that we reach the height of this celebration.

What these disparities mean is that students across the country are subjected to different experiences in the learning process. Notwithstanding this, our national examinations have over the years ignored this stark reality and set the bar of expectations at the same level for all students regardless of their socio-economic backgrounds and learning experiences.

Because examinations are what they are in this society, we have persisted in condemning a huge part of the young population to an unviable existence.

As the country ushers in this year’s national examinations season, we also herald a replay of one of the more serious national injustices – that discriminates against us more than it makes us equal.

It is unfortunate that while we are still unable to agree on an equitable distribution of resources in this country, we are suddenly arm-twisted into believing that all learners, no matter their circumstances, are to be held in equal regard – if only by national examinations.

It becomes apparent therefore that besides voting, the only other thing we are willing to grant the poor equal opportunity to, is sitting for national exams.

The disparities evident across different regions and institutions are so startling that they would read like fiction to those who either do not know, or find themselves in regions whose schools are endowed with better infrastructure and human resources.

In some instances, such disparities are realised between schools separated by no more than a kilometre. Just as our cities and towns have a slum for every high-income residential area, so do we have several deprived schools for each highly regarded school.

Earlier research

According to an earlier research by Uwezo, it emerged that the teacher-pupil ratios for Mandera and Nairobi counties stood at 1:88 and 1:55 respectively.

The same report went on to document that Turkana and Samburu counties recorded poverty levels of 93 and 88 per cent respectively. It does not require magic to figure out that these two are just some of the variables that impact intimately on the quality of learning.

The rise of new technologies and globalisation might be cited as arguments against my point of view if one shuts their eyes to the open secret in this arrangement.

The irony is that whereas information technology in Kenya, and its attendant growth of the middle class seems to have improved our lot; it has also worked to widen the gap between the low socio-economic classes and the high-income earners.

Hence the fact that we have been able to supply a few computers and tablets to schools (including those lacking the capacity to use these devices) does not necessarily mean we have succeeded in bridging the gap.

21st century

One Klaus Shwab sums it up quite accurately: “The trends that are shaping the 21st century world embody both promise and peril. Globalisation, for example, has lifted hundreds of millions of people out of poverty while contributing to social fragmentation and a massive increase in inequality.”

There is no doubt that even the less privileged schools have gone on to produce some of the most dynamic and productive citizens in this country. Similarly, there are students who have – for whatever reason – failed to take advantage of their more favourable schools.

This should, however, not be allowed to serve as sufficient consolation, reason being we cannot always count on nature to win over nurture. It is for this reason that we need to begin by addressing the unfortunate disparities in the system if national examinations are to make sense and cease being agents of injustice. If this is not done, then national examinations will remain one of the frontiers of injustice. For in trying to treat us equally, these examinations actually make us more unequal.

Dr Wesonga is a lecturer at the University of Kabianga; [email protected]

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