Exams, transition hurdle for schools owing to Covid-19

Pupils from Ndooni primary school in Kitui East, Kitui County with their parents at the school on January 14, 2020. [File, Standard]

Covid-19 pandemic has forced the closure of schools in the country and not even the examination classes could be allowed back. 

The biggest challenge has been to establish where public education and public health protocols meet to be able to maintain social distancing for the examination classes in our schools.

The proposed re-opening in September could not be attained as positive cases keep on rising, with the Ministry of Health indicating that the cases will peak by then.

Based on this advice from the ministry, the decision had to be made. However, there have been arguments that grades could be predicted to allow students to transit to the next class. But this cannot be done in Kenya owing to the following:

First, our continuous assessment tests (CATs) are not standardised as we do not have tools that the Kenya National Examination Council (Knec) has developed for that process in the current 8-4-4 system.

Hence each school develops its own CAT, which could be subjective and compromise the credibility of the examination.

Second, KCSE examinations are used not only for transition but also for placement to various university programmes, as opposed to other countries that have University Entry Examinations administered by the universities.

The transition for the other classes has a challenge in terms of inclusion of content, for example in the lower grades under the Competency-based Curriculum (CBC). Competencies taught at one level, say in Grade 4, could not be taught alongside those of Grade 5.

Then there is the challenge of certification, which deals with syllabus content rather than grades. This would have put the current Form Four students in a challenging situation when they join institutions of higher learning out of the country.

In other counties such as Norway, examinations were cancelled for final year students. In that country examinations count for only 20 per cent of the final grade, with course participation taking precedence at 80 per cent.

Some other countries have a series of examinations in a year, one for May series and July series, which is not the case in Kenya.

Where examinations have been cancelled, students have been graded based on their course work and the established assessment expertise and quality control already built into the programme that is lacking in our country at the moment.

Hard decision

In the continent, the West African Senior School Certificate Examination in May and June 2020 was suspended and will be revisited once the health situation improves.

In general, examinations are used to make decisions about an individual student's progress through the education system, including the allocation of education opportunities.

Kenya is yet to ensure this can be achieved from any school in our country, making the suggestion of students to attend the nearest school not possible.

For exams to be fair to all students, they should be standardised. The validity and reliability key questions will be:

(i) If exams are cancelled or postponed beyond date, how then will a decision be made for allocating university or college space or scholarships?

(ii) If online format is used, how can fair access be ensured for all students? What guarantee is there that students in remote or rural areas, those with disability (often forgotten in every discussion) and those with low quality or no access to internet or computer can be enabled to take exams? How will test security be maintained?

(iii) If exams are replaced with teacher provided grades, what resources need to be delivered to teachers to ensure accurate and fair assessment and effective communication of what students know and can do, particularly in the context of distance learning? All these are questions that have no answers in our country today.

As the CS said in his press release on the day the announcement was made, he noted that “All the decisions that were made here with stakeholders regarding reopening of learning institutions may change as informed by reports from the Ministry of Health, prevailing circumstances and increased knowledge of the Covid-19.’’

We support the decision based on the prevailing circumstances and the advisory from the Health ministry.


— The writer is national chairman, secondary school heads association