When Education Cabinet Secretary Prof George Magoha announced the 2021 Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education (KCSE) examination results, he made a special mention of some candidates, who attained university grades despite their poor show in the primary national examination.
He lauded three girls and five boys, who had performed poorly in Kenya Certificate of Primary Education (KCPE) exam, but took the crown in KCSE.
The inspiring stories of the candidates’ journey to excellence paint a picture of students rising above poverty and inadequacies to chart their own academic paths.
Najma Hassan Mohamed shocked the nation when Prof Magoha congratulated her for scoring a B (plain) in the KCSE examination, despite scoring 113 marks in KCPE.
Mohamed of Banisa Mixed Secondary School in Mandera County exuded optimism in her tremendous improvement.
She is among the 145,145 candidates set to join universities after attaining minimum university entry points of C+ and above.
“I didn’t expect to get 113 marks in KCPE. I was so demoralised and I wanted to repeat, but my father encouraged me to join secondary school and focus on achieving better results. I made a promise that I would score good grades in the KCSE exam and my teachers encouraged me,” she said.
The 19-year-old braved the challenges of constant power outages that disrupted her study time.
“I was appointed as the school’s Library Captain in my Form Two and Form Three. This made me read more to prepare for my exams. I had ample time to read during weekends in the library while other students were away,” she explained.
She not only emerged as the most improved candidate from sub-county schools in North Eastern, but her school also topped among all the day schools in the region and took position 14 nationally in that category.
Mohamed wants to pursue medicine and surgery at University.
Ms Sharon Cheptoo, who scored 267 marks in her KCPE also sprang a surprise by scoring an A- (minus) in KCSE.
It was a remarkable performance for the 18-year-old, who sat her examination at the little-known Lelu Secondary School in Kipkelion West Constituency in Kericho County.
She topped the list of most improved candidates nationally.
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In an interview, Ms Cheptoo said she joined Form One in 2017 with a resolve that she would do everything to join the university and become the first graduate in her family.
“When I joined Form One, I told myself that I had to work hard because I knew if I didn’t do so, the 267 primary school marks would not take me anywhere,” said Ms Cheptoo.
The sixth born in a family of seven, revealed that she was determined to break the family tradition since most of her relatives are primary school teachers.
“I struggled with Kiswahili and English, which I scored a B+(plus) and B-(minus) respectively. They are the ones which made me not score A (plain). I am satisfied with my score though,” she said.
Mr John Osoro Mosoti, Lelu secondary school principal pointed out that Cheptoo started performing well in Form Three.
“Cheptoo was serious with her studies. Instead of going for mid-term breaks, she would request one of her teachers, who lives near the school to accommodate her so that she could study in school. It finally paid off,” said Mr Mosoti.
The school took the sixth position in the list of top schools in Kericho county with 8.2 mean points.
Ms Cheptoo said she wants to study Medical Engineering at Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (JKUAT).
Another candidate, Ms Okoth Cindy Adhiambo of Sigoti Complex Girls Secondary school in Nyanza, was seventh on the list of most improved candidates.
The 19-year-old scored a mean grade of B- despite her poor show in her KCPE performance of 165 marks.
Ms Adhiambo explained how her fellow students ridiculed her for scoring ‘poorly’ in KCPE exam, but that only made her resolve to prove the naysayers wrong.
“When the KCPE results were released four years ago, I felt like a loser and I was so ashamed of myself. I couldn’t even approach my friends because I knew they would laugh at me. People would insult my mother telling her that she should stop struggling to educate a loser,” Ms Adhiambo recalled.
Ms Adhiambo said she drew her motivation from her mother’s struggle and determination to see her through her secondary school education.
“Life was so hard. I scored poorly in KCPE, forcing my mother to take a loan to pay my Form One admission fees. I saw how she struggle and promised myself to work hard ,” said Ms Adhiambo.
The second-born child among five siblings said: “Being in a boarding school, I had to sacrifice some things. Sometimes, I would go to school without pocket money but I didn’t lose focus to achieve good university grades.”
Although Adhiambo was certain that she would score good grades in KCSE, she never imagined her name would be mentioned on television.
“I didn’t watch the release of exam results but my friends called me after they heard my name mentioned by the CS Magoha. I was so excited,” she said.
The reaction was the same for Simon Mathii Kituku, the third most improved candidate in last year’s KCSE examination.
“That was the least of my expectation. It was a heroic moment. I give it to nobody but God,” he said.
Having scored a meagre 221 marks in the 2017 KCPE, and been admitted to the little-known ABC Kambusu Day secondary school in Matungulu sub-county in Machakos county, Kituku pulled a surprise performance of a B plain.
The 19-year-old said poverty and lack of school fees did not kill his determination to excel.
“It wasn’t smooth sailing. I almost dropped out of school in my final year of study due to lack of school fees, but my school principal intervened and suspended my fees arrears in order to keep me in school,” said Kituku.
He said the burning desire to excel could not be slowed down by poverty.
Kituku, hopes to join Kenyatta University to pursue Bachelor’s Degree in Education.
“I did not lose hope even after performing dismally in my KCPE. Today, I stand proud even among my peers who joined prestigious secondary schools,” he says.
Mr Kithome Nzai, the principal of ABC Kambusu secondary school said the majority of good students fail to achieve their full potential due to low self-esteem and lack of proper guidance.
“Teachers have a huge role to play in shaping the destiny of all learners irrespective of their academic ability,” said Mr Nzai.
Little known Gathiru-ini boys secondary school in Githunguri, Kiambu county also came to the national limelight after producing one of the most improved KCSE candidates.
Humphrey Mwangi ,19, who scored 211 marks in KCPE managed a B plain in KCSE examinations.
Were it not for his resolve to shun distractions, Mwangi said he probably could not have been among the KCSE candidates, who will be joining university.
“I befriended my Mathematics and Physics teachers and I would always bother them even in the staffroom. I had no luxury time during class breaks when I would do some extra work”, said Mwangi.
Mwangi, who wants to study Electrical Engineering, revealed he almost dropped out of school since most students mocked him for being ‘too close’ to the teachers.
“I had to go for guidance and counselling. Most students thought I was a ‘sell out’ for being close to the teachers. I suffered rejection from my classmates. On the last day of KCSE exam, some students poured water on my bed,” he recalled.
But he had a dream to achieve. “My father is a peasant farmer and my mother is a tailor in a small town called Daiga, in Nanyuki. I made a decision to work hard in order to break the cycle of poverty in our family. I studied late at night sometimes sleeping as late as 2 am,” said Mwangi.
The school’s principal Mr Douglous Kaimenyi termed Mwangi as a focused and unique student.
“The student was focused, and we gave him our full support as teachers. He also had issues with paying fees, but I allowed him to stay in school,” Mr Kaimenyi said.
He said the schools rely on alumni and counsellors to encourage learners.
Among notable alumni include the Founder of Mount Kenya University, Mr Simon Gicharu who studied in the school between 1979 and 1982 before joining Murang’a High school for his A levels and later Kenyatta University.
Gicharu, who was an assistant headboy back then said; “With proper support, this school can produce more top students.”
Other notable alumni include Stephen Kihonge, a lecturer at Strathmore University, George Kinyanjui Operations Manager at a financial institution, John Gicharu of the United Nations, Peter Muthana a senior bank manager and Peter Kagi a principal of a college in Thika.
Also on the list of the most improved candidates was Bonface Wambua Mbilo of the little-known Njukini Mixed Day Secondary school in Taveta Sub County.
He also defied all odds to score grade B, becoming one the most improved students in Taita Taveta County and the Coast region.
Four years ago, Mbilo managed a paltry 241 marks in the KCPE but he soldiered on.
“I was demoralised when I got 241 marks in the KCPE examination and I thought it was the end of everything. But I later met a servant of God at Njukini, who encouraged and motivated me to forget about the poor performance and continue with my secondary education,” he said.
Mbilo said at times, he would walk to school with a rechargeable lamp bought by his mother.
“I used to take the lamp to school at night for us to use in preps. The school principal used to pay for the charging fees. Had it not for the headteacher, things would have been worse to us,” he noted.
Mbilo said the principal encouraged them to work hard.
The fifth born in the family of eight, said he kept away from peer pressure groups and concentrated on his learning.
“I performed poorly in primary school due to peer pressure. And when I joined secondary school, I had set my goals and worked hard to meet them,” he said. Mbilo said that he did not expect good results.
“My mother is a single parent and peasant farmer who is struggling to feed and educate us. My ambition is to become a medical doctor but I am looking at the cluster points and then decide which course to undertake,” he stated.
School principal Mr Bonface Kyalo described Mbilo as a hardworking and disciplined boy.
He said the student had been scoring between C- and C in his terminal examinations and grade B came as a surprise to the school.
“He told me he wished to study Actuarial Science in future,” said Kyalo.
Another student, Isaac Shawiza, also surprised many especially from her region in Vihiga when Prof Magoha read out his name and praised him for obtaining good grades in KCSE.
Shawiza attained a mean grade of B plain in 2021 KCSE exam, despite managing 242 marks in KCPE exam.
However, he said it never occurred to him that he would emerge among the most improved candidates.
Speaking after KCSE exam results, Shawiza, who was a student at low ranked Makuchi sub-county secondary school in Vihiga county told The Standard that he braved a myriad of challenges to post sterling results.
The 18-year-old student recalled after KCPE results were released four years ago, he became a laughing stock in his village because.
Shawiza’s mother plucks tea to fend for the family while his father has been jobless.
“I promised them that I would not let them down in case they let me join secondary school. I always remembered the promise and inspired myself to work harder,” said Shawiza.
Like other students, Shawiza didn’t shy away from seeking help from his teachers.
“I created time to attend church whenever I was not in school on Sundays. I was disciplined and my teachers were happy with the way I behaved and worked hard in class, I could approach specific teachers for help whenever I encountered difficult questions,” he said.
Sarah Kegonya, who is Shawiza’s mother said her son made the family proud.
“He gave us a reason to smile, it was not easy to see him through secondary school. Our prayer is that he excels and gets us out of poverty,” said Ms Kegonya. Shawiza wants to pursue medicine and become a dental doctor in future.
[Jacinta Mutura, Abdiazziz Roble, Nikko Tanui, Fidelis Kabunyi, Renson Mnyamwezi, Brian Kisanji and Erastus Mulwa]