We are nurturing monsters if exam theft makes a return

A police officer escorts the KCPE Exam Center Manager at Hezta School in Olkalou Nyandarua County to a police vehicle after the school was suspected that they were stealing exams. [John Githinji, Nyandarua]

It is sad that examination centres in Kenya have become like war zones – police and other law enforcement officers armed to the teeth and in full fatigue. In recent years, nearly all top government leaders – Cabinet Secretaries, Principal Secretaries, senior county officials – have been mobilised to oversee the exams, especially the opening of the exam packages.

Furthermore, the candidates entering the exam room are frisked almost to the point of being stripped naked. One wonders how children can concentrate after such an ordeal. How do they maintain focus when fully armed officers pace up and down outside the exam room window?

Yet, this seemingly unpropitious conduct has become a necessity to secure the credibility of our exams and preserve the value of our certificates. By the time Dr Fred Matiang’i, then CS Education, instituted some of these measures, the prevalence of exam cheating had descended to deep hell.

Results were allegedly being purchased by school heads at the Kenya National Exam Council (KNEC), while candidates could easily access papers at a small fee.

In short, exams became a major side hustle – until Dr Matiang’i and Prof George Magoha disrupted the flow. But even more serious was that the credibility of our certificates at the international level was seriously threatened. Drastic action was an absolute necessity to restore the value of A’s which had become commonplace.

But like bees thrown out of the comb, the cartels keep coming back for the honey, hence the drama at exam centres. Of truth, this oddity is perhaps unique to Kenya. I doubt that exams are guarded this fiercely elsewhere.

For the younger folk, it may come as a surprise that national exams have not always been the do-or-die phenomena they have become. When we undertook our Certificate of Primary Education, the East Africa Certificate of Education, and the East Africa Advanced Certificate of Education, the exams came and went without much drama. I do not recall anybody talking about possible cheating, nor did we have any extraordinary supervision. It was presumed that if you were A material you got your A, while the D was equally justly awarded.

At the university – yes, at “the” university – we passed or failed without much grumbling or suspicions as to who may have purchased what grade. I may have been naïve, but we rarely heard whispers of which girl slept with which professor to attain First Class honours. Unfortunately, now rumour has it that all may not be well even at “the” university, let alone at the other recent entrants. The big question, therefore, begs: Where exactly did the rain start beating us?

The culprit may be the negative culture we seem to have nurtured over the years. When nepotism, corruption and favouritism replaced meritocracy – especially in securing public sector jobs; when corruption replaced hard work as the only road to success; and we began to unquestioningly celebrate the thief and vilify the labourer, then we inadvertently sent the signal to our children that hard work is a curse.

Worse still, when those caught cheating or stealing public resources face no serious consequences, then our children think it better to risk being caught cheating than bear the rigour of hard work. No wonder they have invested their young minds in devising creative ways of sneaking answers into the exam rooms than in studying for exams. They reason that honing their wicked skills early may yield better future returns than time spent in the library.

Fellow Kenyans, unless something radical is done to reverse this culture, we are soon going to die as a nation. Forget the well-crafted strategies to revamp our economy and improve our lives.

A saying oft attributed to Peter Drucker – though it was before his time – poignantly asserts that “Culture Eats Strategy for Breakfast!” Great national dreams and flowery manifestoes will quickly dissipate unless and until we get leaders with unflinching courage to reverse the wicked culture of theft and freebies.

Otherwise, through our schools, we may be nurturing monsters that will soon make Anglo Leasing, NSSF, Kemsa, Arror and Kimwarer scandals look like child play.