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Why KCSE exam results must be questioned

Education CS Ezekiel Machogu. [Elvis Ogina, Standard]

The inordinate focus on the Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education (KCSE) exams is reflective of the premium that Kenyans place on learning.

To the indigent, education is a route out of poverty. To the well-heeled, it is a means of maintaining social status. Thus, the KCSE exams, being the penultimate tests, are thought to either uplift candidates from poverty or influence the vicissitudes of their fortunes.

Unfortunately, in the past the integrity of the KCSE exam outcome was questionable because of cheating. Then, exam violators were publicly excoriated and sanctioned. According to newspaper reports, this year, the Education CS Ezekiel Machogu has “not provided data on malpractices, those caught and the punishment meted out as has been the norm in the past.”

But given the scale and scope of KCSE exam administration, it is a foregone conclusion that incidences of malpractices should arise. A section of Kenyans have queried the phenomenal success of some schools. They have noted that the statistical distribution of results in these institutions does not present the bell-shaped normal distribution. No doubt there may be exceptions to general trends but when an entire county appears to be composed of outliers it raises questions.

There is reason to be concerned about probity gaps in the 2022 KCSE exam outcomes. Conversations on social media are replete with alleged anomalies. One such conversation reveals a school as scoring numerous As in Physics and none in Mathematics, a closely related subject. Another, by an examiner who wishes to remain anonymous, talks of questions based on an excerpt from an English paper set book. Over 400 candidates gave identical answers to these.

Beyond the obvious reputational risks of becoming a country whose educational qualifications cannot be trusted are ramifications at a personal level. Some of these are evident further down the road when KSCE certificate holders are unable to hold their own in tertiary institutions. Betty Nguitu, a university Communications Skills lecturer of long standing says, “It’s painful to have students who are not able to articulate an argument, write their own essays with proper argumentation, or even speak in their syndicate groups when presenting assignments.” She echoes the frustrations of fellow dons adding that, “lecturers are constantly trying to bridge the gaps from lower levels at the tertiary level.”

It is regrettable that the Kenyan education system appears to be giving in to the desire for instant gratification. Quite clearly, it is now de rigueur to expect results without process; to waste years of learning in indolence all the while expecting that parents or teachers should provide a quick examination fix. It is not for nothing that this age has earned the moniker “microwave generation”. Yet life has no quick fixes; no shortcuts. Circumventing a process is a clear recipe for failure in later life. Greek Philosopher Aristotle said, “We are what we do repeatedly. Success then, is not an act, but a habit.”

As a nation, Kenya needs to redefine what success is. It cannot lie in the attainment of white collar jobs; a colonial construct that stratified occupations along class lines for purposes of economic subjugation. Nor can it lie in the elevation of certain disciplines like Engineering, Medicine, and Law over equally important ones like Education.

Sooner rather than later, the chickens come home to roost. Students who cheat their way into courses requiring some level of aptitude struggle to keep up. Others eventually drop out of such courses altogether. Dr Mordecai Ogada talks of a situation that has become prevalent in society; where students say,” I gave up my high-flying course in Medicine to pursue my passion of growing capsicums.”

Without a mental reset, every effort to ensure the integrity of national examinations becomes an exercise in futility. As long as the education sector is treated as being lowest on the totem pole of disciplines, reflected in funding of public schools and teacher remuneration, expect outcomes to be treated with suspicion for the foreseeable future!

-Mr Khafafa is a public policy analyst