Inside reforms that tightened cheating in KCPE, KCSE exams

Interior CS Fred Matiangi and Education CS Prof. George Magoha consult during the launch the 2021 National Examination period and issuance of security padlocks at the Kenya School of Government (KSG) on February 18, 2022. [Boniface Okendo, Standard]

On the afternoon of March 24, 2016, then Education Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang'i convened a press briefing at his Jogoo House office to make a major announcement on national examinations.

Flanked by the then Interior and Coordination Cabinet Secretary Joseph Nkaisery and Inspector General of Police Joseph Boinet, Matiang'i said he had dissolved the national examinations board.

This followed a surge in examinations malpractices that led to the cancellation of examination results of some 7,602 candidates who sat examinations in 2015.

Of these, 5,101 KCSE candidates and some 2,701 for KCPE had their results cancelled over examination irregularities, a move Matiang’i termed as a ‘painful exercise.’

Making the announcement, Matiang’i said preliminary investigations revealed complicity, irregularities and illegitimate activities on a number of fronts within and outside of the Kenya National Examination Council (KNEC).

He said that after reviewing a huge amount of information from a number of security sector agencies, it was clear that KNEC had fundamental systemic challenges that must be ‘decisively and conclusively’ addressed in order to ensure the national examination process remain credible.

Magoha entry

And with this, Matiang’i announced that Prof George Magoha, who had just exited management of the University of Nairobi as Vice-Chancellor would take over as the Council chairperson. Magoha replaced Prof Kabiru Kinyanjui.

In addition to this, KNEC Chief Executive Officer Joseph Kivilu and eight senior management officials were suspended and asked to record statements with the police immediately.

Mercy Karogo, who was then a senior director at the Kenya Institute of Curriculum Development (KICD) was appointed acting CEO.

Education CS George Magoha during KCSE Examination container opening in Kisumu on March 21, 2022. [Collins Oduor, Standard]

Senior deputy secretary in charge of examinations, deputy secretary in charge of security, principal examination secretary and the senior deputy secretary in charge of reprographics were suspended.

Also sent home were the senior deputy secretary, senior deputy secretary in charge of ICT, the principal supply chain management and deputy secretary.

The suspended officials would later be retired 'in the public interest,' setting the stage for major reforms at the examinations agency that led to the successful administration of national examinations in 2016.

But disbanding the KNEC board was just part of the elaborate strategy that Matiang’i mooted to curb the increasing examination irregularities that had dented the tests.

The major task for the new board was to conduct a thorough audit of the entire examination system and processes and to enhance the security and integrity of the national examination process.

The board was also mandated to reorganize security agencies supporting the examination system for enhanced security and better management of the examination process.

"National Security"

As he unveiled the new team, Matiang’i said examinations were now a matter of national security and spelt out elaborate plans to secure the tests.

All the examination questions already sent to the printer were recalled and replaced by fresh ones.

And unlike the previous years, examinations were physically taken to the printer. No examination questions were sent through online channels to keep off potential hackers.

KNEC officials who previously managed the examinations were kept off the system with only a small click of persons allowed to manage the process.

An examination center manager is escorted after collecting examination materials from the Nyeri Central DCC Container, March 6, 2022. [Mose Sammy, Standard]

Printing of question papers was also done strictly based on the candidature, with no extra scripts rolled out. It emerged that the extra papers landed in the wrong hands leading to leakages or early exposure.

Also, the period of flying back printed examination materials was shortened as it emerged that longer periods saw cartels make attempt to infiltrate the tests before time.

This means that the time the examinations landed in the country was closer to the starting dates of the tests.

In schools, the term dates were reorganised. Both KCPE and KCSE examinations administration was condensed to one month as opposed to previous years when it could take a longer time.

All midterm breaks during the third term were scrapped off and school activities during the examination term were also banned.

This meant that prayer days, prize giving days and annual general meetings were suspended as it emerged that they were avenues of examination cheating.

And in addition to these, only candidates were required to remain in schools during the entire examination period. The rest of the learners were sent home.

Part of the measures was placing school heads at the centre of examination administration and careful selection and vetting of invigilators and supervisors.

The role of principals and headteachers was well defined as picking and returning papers. A payment plan for all contracted personnel was also elaborated.

Metallic containers were purchased for each Sub County and police were directed to man the double-locked containers, with the keys given to deputy county commissioners and KNEC officials.

The storage of examination material was no longer the sole responsibility of the police as was the case in previous years.

All examinations were dropped in containers in all sub-county offices from the printer. The question papers were then distributed to all sub-county offices and stored in strong containers.

KNEC also rolled out elaborate and strict security at the collection points–vetting heads/principals before they picked papers, assigning police officers and double locking of the containers.

An exam invigilator conducts a search on a section of Moi Avenue Primary School candidates sitting for the Kenya Certificate of Primary Education (KCPE) exams in Nairobi on March 7, 2022. [David Njaaga, Standard]

Heads/principals picked the papers every morning from containers and handed them over to the supervisor in school, in the presence of police.

Accountability documents were signed at collection points witnessed by security and senior government officials.

After the exam, the scripts are handed over to the head/principals to return to the container. Heads/principals then handed over the papers to the education officer in charge of the storage facility.

Matiang'i led senior ministry officials in supervising the
examinations under the multi-agency strategy that has continued to date.

At the examination centres, candidates, supervisors, invigilators and heads/principals and security were barred from using mobile phones and electronic devices during the entire examination period.

Previously, only candidates were restricted to mobile phone use.

The sitting arrangement of candidates was defined to 1.22 meter-distance on all sides, with candidates not facing each other.

And when the 2016 examinations results were announced, only 88,929 candidates who sat the KCSE exam attained the university entry grade of C+ and above with 141 As recorded.

This was a major drop in quality grades as the number of As also dropped to only 141.

Only 4,645 candidates scored grade A–, 10,975 attained B+ while 17,216 scored B. And a total of 55,952 candidates scored grades B– and C+.

Academic giants that posted good grades in national examinations fell as girls outshone the boys in the 2016 tests.

And as was expected, Matiang’i announced there was no single case of examination irregularities.

“This is confirmation that various security measures put in place during the administration and management of the 2016 KCSE examinations helped to nip in the bud any forms of cheating,” Matiang’i said.

Matiang'i said no child should ever again miss examination results 'because of the negligence of anyone.'

From this time on, national examinations became a matter of national security with enhanced supervision during the administration of the tests.

The high number of quality grades sharply reduced, even though KNEC performance reports reveal a slow return of high-level scores.

What is clear, however, is that the decision of the bold reform marked the start of a new dawn in the administration of KCPE and KCSE examinations in the country.