What next after scoring E? Low grades are not a 'death sentence'

The number of candidates who scored grade E in the 2021 exam doubled to 46,151. [iStock]

Imagine if you, your child or a close relative scored an E in the Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education (KCSE) examination. How would you feel?

In Kenya, grade E is considered a death sentence in one's academic and career life. Most view candidates who score E as total academic failures. In most circumstances, scoring an E attracts scorn from teachers, classmates, friends and even family.

The option for many E students in Kenya has been to venture into small start-ups. Similarly, they are advised by family and close friends to take up technical courses like masonry, agriculture-related courses, tailoring and beauty among other blue-collar jobs.

For a student, E automatically means that your hopes of pursuing a white-collar job went up in smoke because no course or form of training would enlist an E student. National Police Service and the army require grades higher than an E (they want at least a D+).

Worrying statistic

Education Cabinet Secretary Prof George Magoha released KCSE 2021 results on Saturday. From the results, the number of candidates who scored grade E in the 2021 KCSE almost doubled to 46,151 from about 20,000 in 2020. Another worrying statistic indicates that 187,264 candidates scored D-.

Out of the 46,151 candidates who scored grade E, 19,573 were female while the other 26,578 were male. This represents 5.56 per cent of all the candidates who sat the national examination in March 2022.

Moreover, 11 per cent (237) of students with special needs were part of the over 46,000 who got one point in each subject. Of the 237 pupils, 108 were girls and 129 were boys.

Over 800,000 candidates wrote the KCSE examination 2021 where only some 1,138 scored A plain.

Jonathan Wesaya, an Education expert, told The Standard that for a student to score low marks, there must have been a factor that affected their performance.

“There is stigma towards students who score low marks. What people don’t consider is that the examination environment (heightened security and spaced sitting), health conditions and family issues are potential reasons to make a student perform poorly,” Mr Wesaya said.

He suggests that there is an existing system failure in the education sector and further agrees that the failure might be solved by CBC, which is not only academic-focused but also develops learners’ personal skills.

Education Cabinet Secretary Prof George Magoha. [File, Standard]

“There is a system failure in 8-4-4. The curriculum only focuses on Grade A students and remains silent on those who score Grade E. It does not outline the academic journey for those who score low marks in the final secondary examination,” Mr Wesaya added.

He added, “Despite the CS saying that E students will be enrolled in TVETS, the truth is that no one wants E students. That is why everybody wants to be a doctor, pilot, engineer or a lawyer. Nobody dreams of becoming a mason.”

He says that once a candidate scores an E, they are left with limited options on what to pursue and sometimes none. All depends on their background.

“We need to push policy-makers to ensure the system does not produce academic failures. We have quality assurance officers who inspect quality of education. Why didn’t we realise that they (E students) need a different approach? Why pay teachers and give subsidies to schools only to produce failures?” he posed.

Lack of clarity on the future of students who score E and the focus on academic performance is what prompted the introduction of the Competency-Based Curriculum (CBC) in 2017 by President Uhuru Kenyatta's administration.

CBC aims to be more student-based with focus on the inherent abilities, aptitude and talents of the student.

This way of thinking is perhaps informed by the opening up of the world, which has been spurred by the internet explosion.

Mr Wesaya says there is no clear road map for E students since the government does not give them a second chance or a way forward.

“Parents whose children have scored E need to embrace their children by understanding that they are gifted differently and have different levels of emotional intelligence,” the education analyst added.

“It might be hard because the government does not allow for repetition of class since they insist on 100 per cent transition. There is no clear instruction on where they move to after the results. If they opt for retake, they will have to do it privately,” he added.

Despite efforts to create equity in child education, leaders have sharply differed on the introduction of the new curriculum.

In efforts to popularise the CBC curriculum, President Kenyatta has heaped praises on it, saying CBC will play a key role in boosting competitiveness of workforce.

President Uhuru Kenyatta. [PSCU]

“Kenya is, blessed with a youthful, well-educated, and productive population that has built one of the most vibrant mixed economies in Africa,” Uhuru said during the 76th session of the United Nations General Assembly in New York.

Ambitious programmes

He added: “We are implementing ambitious programmes to prepare the country to produce decent and rewarding jobs. We have also delivered a national competency-based curriculum and on universal access to schooling, which will further boost competitiveness of our workforce.”

A lobby group led by former LSK President Nelson Havi has however moved to court seeking to challenge the implementation of CBC.