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Differences emerge over new KCSE grading system

 An invigilator screens KCSE candidates at Riooga SDA Mixed School during the start of this year's KCSE examinations. [Stanley Ongwae, Standard]

A split has emerged among education stakeholders following a decision to change the Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education (KCSE) grading structure that will be implemented for the remaining classes under 8-4-4.

The changes, announced on Monday by the Education Cabinet Secretary Ezekiel Machogu, will take effect this year.

Under the new arrangement, proposed by the Presidential Working Party for Education Reform, the grading of KCSE will now use two compulsory subjects in determining the learners’ final scores.

The two mandatory subjects will be Mathematics and one language, (English, Kiswahili or Kenyan Sign Language) and any other five best-performed subjects.

Previously, there were five mandatory subjects across three cluster groups - Mathematics, English, Kiswahili, two sciences and one humanity.

However, the Kenya Union of Post-Primary Education Teachers (Kuppet) has challenged the changes, terming them a knee-jerk reaction likely to confuse the candidates more than help them.

Kuppet says the changes will make students go for the easier options thus posing a threat to STEM-related subjects and courses.

“The government is employing an escapist scheme that will see a lesser number of students taking up science subjects and thus will need to equip less number of facilities and laboratories,” Akello Misori, the KUPPET secretary general told the Standard in an interview.

He added: "Promote the student to take the easier route in academics and will slowly diminish the technical subjects. This will be detrimental to the science subjects because students are now going to take an easier route.”

However, the rival union, Kenya National Union of Teachers (Knut), has supported the adoption of the grading system.

Knut's secretary general Collins Oyuu said the rigidity in the marking and grading of learners has resulted in empty slots in colleges.

“We have had a problem of filing some colleges such as teaching colleges, and this has been due to the rigidity in grading and entry requirements,” Oyuu said.

He stated that the ideology blends the CBC into the 8-4-4 curriculum.

"We must not forget why we changed from the 8-4-4; the system condemned learners in three transition stages. When they completed Class Eight, those who didn't pass were let go. In Form Four the same thing and in university, graduates are suffering from a lack of skills,” he said.

On the other hand, National Parents Association chairman Silas Obuhatsa, argues that the changes should have been extended to this year’s KCPE examinations. 

He is of the opinion that the candidates should be graded only in three subjects, instead of all five.

“We welcome the changes but how we wish it was extended to KCPE as well. Being the last examination it would have helped thousands of students condemned to failure in KCPE,” he said.

Prof Stephen Mbugua, the chairman of the Kenya Association of Private Universities, argues that it will provide better access to tertiary education and increase the number of students in these institutions.

Mbugua noted private universities have suffered a shrink in numbers since the adoption of the new university funding model that blocked the institutions from access to fully government-funded students.

“If the number of students qualifying for university increases, then chances are the number of admission in private and public universities will go up and in turn increase enrollment, this is especially important due to the dwindling numbers in private universities,” Mbugua noted.

Education expert, Paul Wanjohi also weighed in on the reforms noting that he is of the opinion that the model should have been adopted years ago as it aligns with the aspirations of the new curriculum of developing the potential of each learner.

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