Count down to end of 8-4-4 as three groups sit national exams

Little Lillie's Academy class 8 and 6 candidates hold prayers at Friends church Kefinco in Kakamega town on November 27, 2022. [Benjamin Sakwa, Standard]

More than 3.4 million candidates will from today sit three separate national examinations that will mark the start of a major transition from the cutthroat tests that have been the hallmark of the 8-4-4 education system.

The second last cohort of 8-4-4 will exit primary education as the pioneer group of Competency-Based Curriculum (CBC)­­ – Grade Six – sit their first national examination under the 2-6-3-3-3 education system.

Even though the transition plan for the Grade Six learners is still not clear, what is true is that the learners will have concluded the first phase of their primary education under the proposed education reforms.

Next year, the last 8-4-4 candidates will sit Standard Eight and Form Four national examinations, bringing to an end an education system that has been billed as promoting rote learning and supporting high-stakes national tests.

Today, some 1,244,188 candidates will sit Kenya Certificate for Primary Education (KCPE) exam, while 884,263 will write the Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education (KCSE) exam.

Another group of about 1,287,597 will sit the inaugural Kenya Primary School Education Assessment (KPSEA) exams.

Even though the triple national tests will be administered concurrently, the burden on candidates under the two assessment regimes will be different.

While the KCPE and KCSE candidates will be working hard to achieve 100 per cent marks, the KPSEA group will only be striving to score a maximum of 40 marks.

These Grade Six learners sat the teacher-administered assessments in Grades 4, 5 and 6 with a cumulative score of 60 per cent.

The tests administered at Grade Six now usher in a new examinations regime known as Competency-Based Assessments (CBA), which is largely administered by classroom teachers to inform learning progress and also assess readiness for transition to primary, secondary and higher education.

The tests already being rolled out under the CBC entail a balance between formative and summative assessments.

However, as Grade Six candidates settle down to write the inaugural tests, what is worth noting is that they usher in the end of nearly four-decades-old national examinations that have now become too expensive to manage.

With the number of candidates sitting KCPE and KCSE increasing courtesy of the 100 per cent transition policy, the cost of printing, transporting and managing the tests has also continued to rise.

The struggle by candidates to score higher marks in the twin 8-4-4 national examinations to secure plum slots in high schools and universities created shortcuts as teachers, parents and candidates broke security seals of the tests to access papers.

This behaviour set in motion efforts by the government to secure the credibility of the examinations through printing of the examinations abroad, a practice that education stakeholders termed as expensive.

Massive involvement of security officers, intensive monitoring and provision of daily allowances to administrators became necessary to forestall plans to cheat in the tests.

The Standard has established that printing the two examination papers abroad costs about Sh1.5 billion per year, nearly half of the budget of Kenya National Examination Council (Knec).

This means that this year alone, Sh3 billion will be spent on printing the papers alone, as two sets of examinations will be done, thanks to the Covid-19 pandemic that disrupted the school calendar.

Inside sources reveal that all KCPE examination papers are printed abroad because the multiple choices nature of the questions are easy to leak.

And for KCSE papers, previously, only seven papers were printed out of the country. These were various question papers on mathematics, Kiswahili, Geography and English subjects.

The rest of the papers–chemistry, physics, biology, optional papers and all the answer sheets were printed locally.

However, with the examination reforms instituted in 2016, it emerged that more papers are printed abroad, which means that the cost has also gone up.

And education stakeholders are now proposing better innovative ways that further cut down costs of administering examinations under the CBC.

Meanwhile, administration of the 8-4-4 exams still leads to more money spent by the Education Ministry and Knec officials who draw night-out allowances during their trips to the printer in the UK.

The visits which are done at least twice a year see the officials go through all activities from the setting of questions, proofreading, printing and packaging and also conducting financial transactions.

Those who make trips include the Cabinet Secretary, Principal Secretary, Knec chairman and council officials such as an officer in charge of test development, another from the printing department, finance and also examination administration.

But the cost of administering these examinations goes up during distribution to other parts of the country from the Embakasi warehouse which also gobbles up millions of shillings.

Former education Cabinet Secretary George Magoha said printing of examinations papers abroad would continue until CBC is properly implemented.

“Once CBC takes root it will be done because the premiums of the examinations will have disappeared,” said Magoha.

He said under CBC, children will have scored most of the marks at the school level, easing pressure on the national tests.

“The child will have got 60 per cent on assessments and that child you cannot sit on him. So maybe that time we can say that for the 40 per cent let us set it here,” said Magoha.

Education stakeholders however say that the anticipated shift to school-based assessments may lower the cost of tests administration, as an emphasis on the exam scores will be watered down.

They argue that the penchant to cheat in tests will be quelled as focus shifts to teachers who will score learners at the class level.

Dr Emanuel Manyasa, Usawa Executive Director however dismissed this.

“For as long as secondary schools remain as inequitable as they are, there will be competition for the few good ones. There will be a risk of theft of exams. The cost of administering exams will remain high or go higher with more technical assessments at junior and senior secondary,” said Manyasa.

He said the government is yet to come up with a proper transition formula and placement of students to junior and senior secondary schools.

“They will find that the marks allocated at schools is spurious. And they will weigh the end of course marks more when they face the reality of placement,” said Manyasa.

Jonson Nzioka and Kahi Indimuli, who are the national chairpersons of primary and secondary school heads associations, agree that CBC will greatly reduce the cost of examinations.

“The present examinations are heavily policed and a lot of contracted personnel are deployed to man the tests. This will not be the case under CBA,” said Indimuli.

Indimuli and Nzioka said printing of national papers would be done locally under CBC.

“With improved integrity among Kenyans, we can now print these examinations locally because we have good printers,” said Indimuli.

Nzioka said candidates will have known their scores before the end examinations and this will not make the final tests as premium as KCPE and KCSE.

Sources revealed that the printing machines at Knec are similar to those used abroad.

“The difference is that printers abroad are highly computerised for cutting and packaging. If those at Knec are fine-tuned printing can be done locally. But they can also outsource some of the work locally,” said a Knec official.

But that is not all. During the administration of the tests, top government officials draw thousands of shillings daily as they embark on month-long monitoring of the tests across the country.

This strategy was adopted in 2016 following major reforms aimed at restoring the credibility of the national examinations.

A multi-agency approach of the administration of examinations was adopted where top government officials make impromptu visits to monitor the management of the tests across the country.

And from today, officers from the Ministries of Education, Interior and national coordination, ICT, Teachers Service Commission (TSC) and other semi-autonomous agencies (SAGA’s) will take part in the administration of the exams.

This also means that during the entire examination administration period, business activities at the Ministry of Education come to a standstill as senior officers are in the field. In some cases, air transport and accommodation allowances is provided for senior officers from Nairobi deployed to monitor the exams.

Salaries and Remuneration Commission (SRC) in 2017 reviewed daily subsistence allowance (DSA) for local travel.

Officers deployed to the cities of Nairobi, Mombasa, Kisumu and Nakuru are paid between Sh4, 200 and Sh22,000 per day.

And those traveling to County headquarters, Malindi and Naivasha are paid between Sh3, 500 and Sh18,000.

Government officers deployed to the rest of the towns are entitled to a daily allowance of between Sh3,000 to Sh14,000.

Overall, under the rates, Government officers are entitled to between Sh3,000 (job groups A-E) to Sh22,000 per day (job groups U-V).