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What is masked in our near cheating-free exam system?

OPINION
By Agumba Ndaloh | December 19th 2019

The Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education (KCSE) examination results are finally here.

They have demonstrated how serious the government was on the issue of bringing credibility to our national examinations.

We had sunk so low that cheating in examinations had not only become our culture, but a serious socio-economic venture.

But are we home and dry? I beg to differ. 

Cheating has been a gangrenous wound on our national body. What we have learnt, nonetheless, is that with political will and a determined mind at the helm of the education docket, no nation is limited.

As a country, we are almost achieving a feat that even the developed countries have been registering pyrrhic victories in.

But why do some people cheat in examinations? Is it an extension of our corrupt culture? Or could it have its provenance in impunity, which is also our stock in trade as a nation?

I suggest from the onset that we dig deeper into the issue to get answers to these questions. We have to start from the point that cheating is at the tail end of the malaise that is our education system.

The truth is that cheating epitomises the rot in our school system. Gleaning through the system, we are able to discern many skeletons. This points to the deep rooted problems that bedevil our school system.

The first issue is the cut-throat system that our examinations have become.

Winner takes it all

Like in politics where the winner takes it all, when the results came out it was jubilation for the ‘good performers’. Nobody stopped to give a thought about those at the tail end of the performance.

Those at the tail-end are usually left on their own. Even their parents are dejected to the extent of showing their children that they are unhappy with their performance. This is where our problem with cheating partly begins.

Next, we need to reflect on disparities in performance. Why are public schools in urban centres doing better than those in the rural areas?

Is our education system perpetuating equity in society? As you read about the occupations of the parents of the high-fliers, are the poor rural folks represented? For candidates who have done well, their parents and teachers are attributing the sterling performance to hard work and cooperation. Does this mean that those who performed dismally were denied these?

There is more to these results than meets the eye. We need to dissect the whole body of our school system to get the true picture.

First is the issue of teacher-learner ratio, especially in public schools and schools in informal settlements. Teachers in most rural public schools are suffering from overload. Something needs to be done, but it should not involve the hiring of interns on poor pay.

A demotivated teacher will not work well, hence the poor performance of learners under such a teacher. Let us make the terms of service and working conditions of teachers in public service better.

Supremacy wars

It is high time that the Teachers Service Commission and the Kenya National Union of Teachers did away with their supremacy wars and concentrated in this area.

What is the contribution of poor infrastructure in schools to poor performance? Learning conditions in many public schools are deplorable. Some schools do not have classes, toilets and staff rooms. How do we expect such pupils to compete favourably with those in well-endowed schools?

Many studies that have been done by post graduate students in the country have revealed that teachers employ poor teaching methods. Apart from teacher centred methods and techniques, drilling and rote learning are popular with our teachers. These approaches are inimical to deep learning.

An examination of results of learners with special needs reveals a lackluster performance. The curve, if it is to be drawn, is not bell-shaped. We have neglected this area.

Moreover, with inclusion as a policy, it means that these learners are spread across our entire school fabric yet the teachers in most of these schools only have rudimentary knowledge on how to handle learners with special education needs.

Ultimately, as we congratulate ourselves for near cheating-free exams, we need to ponder over some pertinent issues. First, did we really curb the cheating malaise or did it mutate into other ways that escaped scrutiny? How can we promote deep learning in our schools?

How should we treat learners with special needs and those with chronic health problems?

Finally, we need to find out from the learners, teachers and parents why, in spite of the stringent measures and the risks involved, people still attempt to cheat.

This can be done through a study.

Dr Ndaloh is a curriculum and teaching expert at Moi university [email protected]

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