The ongoing debate on the administration of national examinations is a productive conversation, raising salient questions that should be addressed by none other than career educationists.
Though, nobody should be denied the freedom of expression as it is sacrosanct and enshrined in the Constitution, the discussion on national examinations and assessment should be anchored exclusively by bona fide career educationists who apparently are better placed to give a forensic insight of this critical area of teaching and learning.
Honestly, discussions on issues regarding examinations and assessment should be a preserve of professionals – justifiably, it is educationalists that should take command of the animated conversation.
First-and-foremost, let us evaluate the national examination bodies as they play a crucial role in ensuring that education standards are secure and maintained, more so, that pupils/students are fairly evaluated on their knowledge, skills, competencies and attitudes. It is important to set the records straight – national examination bodies are directly responsible for developing and administering standardised tests and examinations, and to assess the level of students’ learning and proficiency.
The critical nature of examination bodies such as Kenya National Examination Council, Association of Chartered Certified Accountants, Kenya Accountants and Secretaries National Examinations Board, National Industrial Training Authority, International Air Transport Association and City and Guilds necessitates them to develop a culture of professionalism and expertness - working relationship with other regional examining bodies to maintain international standards within national assessment so that our candidates can be competitive internationally.
National examination bodies, therefore, need to have a very tight grip on the administration of examinations through strong mechanism of regulating the exams, tests and assessments, thus making the whole process credible.
Based on the report presented to the Departmental Committee for Education and Research, it is evident that a lot of ground work and justification needs to be done to raise Kenya’s standing in the international education arena. Picture this. It was reported that the pass rate in the 2022 KCSE examination was below the pass rates in equivalent examinations in neighbouring countries.
It recorded a quality pass rate of 19.62 per cent (C+ and above) compared to a pass rate of 61.36 per cent, 36.95 per cent and 69.31 per cent (Credit grade and above) in Uganda, Tanzania and Zambia respectively. (Source KNEC).
These statistics are disturbing, and indeed worrying, raising pertinent questions: Why are the masses and leaders raising hue and cry when our students’ performance improves, yet we are still at the bottom of the ladder? Is it wrong for Kenyan students to climb up the ladder and much their counterparts in Uganda, Tanzania and Zambia?
Another area of concern is the need to adequately fund KNEC. From the Committee sharing and KNEC report, it is evident that the Council requires financing commensurate to the increase of over 50 per cent candidates sitting the national examination.
Since 2016, funding of KNEC has not been commensurate with the candidature increase, forcing the Council to administer the examinations under a constrained financial environment. The undesired effect of an increased candidature without a corresponding budget is the congestion in marking centres, unfriendly remuneration, poor accommodation and meals, and of course, increased examiners’ turnover rate. Enhanced budgetary allocation would greatly assist in alleviating this perennial problem.
Based on international best-assessment practice, candidates and schools cannot be penalised for posting improved mean scores – thus, if there is lack of adequate evidence that candidates received undue advantage during examination administration, the results for the suspected candidates ought to be released unconditionally.
It is a universal principle that examination assessment should be fair to all candidates. Where conflict arises on a candidate’s results, and there is a failure to gather compelling evidence against the suspected candidate, the benefit of doubt is given precedence, hence the candidate is set off the hook.
It is important, however, for candidates to understand the importance of academic integrity, and take responsibility of their actions.
While this holds, KNEC should be considerate to avoid throwing a baby out with the bathwater – imagine a student who has been in school for the past 12 years, struggling through life and parents investing heavily in his/her education only their lives to be shattered on the stroke of the pen.
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A life-shattering edict of ending their dreams based on error that can easily be isolated should be avoided at all costs. We need to have a sober conversation as parents and educationists – the role of national examination bodies can significantly impact the quality of education and the students’ academic success.
Mr Sossion is a former secretary-general of Knut