Fund KNEC adequately to safeguard the integrity of assessments

Center Managers collect KCSE Examinations from Kisii Central Examinations container on December 5, 2022. [Sammy Omingo, Standard]

This year’s national examinations begin in less than a month. The Kenya Certificate of Primary Education (KCPE) and the Kenya Primary School Education Assessment (KPSEA) exams start on October 27, while the Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education (KCSE) test begins a week earlier on October 19.

Yet, teachers who invigilated and marked last year’s exams were paid for their services by the Kenya National Examinations Council (KNEC) only a month ago. When the Kenya Union of Post-Primary Education Teachers (KUPPET) raised the issue of the delay in payments in March, KNEC Chief Executive Officer David Njeng’ere decried a funding deficit at the council, which he said had crippled activities.

Now we are approaching the next national exams and the circus is about to start again. Payment of examination officials has previously been delayed due to inadequate budgetary allocation to Knec by the national government.

According to a report by the National Assembly Budget and Appropriations Committee released ahead of the Budget speech in June, Knec has struggled to meet some obligations since the allocation for the examinations waiver has remained the same, despite the number of candidates increasing every year.

In the 2023/24 budget, the council has been allocated Sh5 billion for examinations waiver for primary and secondary school candidates. Perhaps the question we need to ask is how was this figure arrived at. Is there any formula the National Treasury uses to determine allocation to Knec?

In the free primary and free day secondary education programmes, the funding is a capitation per child or student. The current capitation for free primary education is Sh1,420, while that for free day secondary education is Sh22,244 per year. The same model is used for Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET).

The Presidential Working Party on Education Reforms (PWPER) recommends further itemisation of this capitation, raising it to Sh1,170 for pre-primary, Sh2,238 for primary, Sh15,043 for junior and Sh22,527 for senior schools. On top of this, PWPER recommends a Minimum Essential Package (MEP) to schools of Sh70,200 for pre-primary; Sh537,120 for primary education; Sh2,030,805 for junior school; and Sh3,041,145 for senior school.

MEP is to cover financial obligations in schools, independent of the number of learners. This comes in handy in cases where schools find it difficult to raise sufficient funds through capitation to cover fixed and variable costs, due to low enrolment. For tertiary education, the government introduced the Differentiated Unit Cost (DUC), in 2017/18 financial year, as a model for funding public universities. DUC is based on a number of parameters, including staff cost, student-staff ratio, student numbers, cost of infrastructure and operations, and student load.

From these examples, most education programmes have their funding formulae focusing on the learner, except for examination or assessment. Even in the PWPER’s recommended capitation formula for basic education, this crucial item is conspicuously missing. This needs to be fixed to cure KNEC of perennial funding deficits that put it at loggerheads with examiners.

There are two ways this can be done. First, the government can send money to schools for examinations waiver for primary and secondary school candidates, which the schools then submit to Knec depending on the number of candidates. Or, secondly, after registration of candidates, the government determines the allocation for Knec using a capitation for each candidate registered for the tests.

To arrive at a reasonable figure, an assessment should be done on how much it costs to examine one child. These include costs such as setting the exam, printing, storage, distribution, administration, invigilation, marking, among others.

This will ensure Knec is adequately funded to optimally carry out its functions and to safeguard the integrity of examinations.