Flawed logic that has been used to back exam cheating claims

The fake news became fodder for social media analysts and commentators who isolated Kisii County for bashing. It didn't help matters that the CS hails from the county. In their view, it wasn't a coincidence that the CS's county had performed exemplary well. The propagandists took advantage of the fact the CS had stopped the retrogressive practice of ranking schools and students to generate a fake one indicating Kisii schools as leading.

Among those who claim last year's exam was stolen are two groups. One has argues that there is no way any other school would perform better than or same as "academic giants". In their view, the merit list must always begin with known performers with others trailing. Any deviation from this pattern is branded as cheating. Previously, any "small school" that dared upset this pattern or joined the big schools in top 10 have had credibility questions raised on them.

It is important to note that the schools in question which, according to these critics, should never fare anywhere near Mangus and Alliances of these world, are national and extra county schools whose selection of KCPE pupils is fairly within the same range. Both schools have Teachers Service Commission's tutors who attended the same universities. In terms of facilities such as books, the government has supplied more than enough to all secondary schools. So there is no more specific advantage which some schools should use to dominate good grades.

In the other group are those who argue that for results to be credible, a very lean number of learners should perform well. Massive failure therefore becomes the mark of credibility. Such commentators dissect the results from the background of previous years' performance when hundreds of thousands of candidates got Es and Ds.

When Dr Fred Matiang'i took over the Education docket, performance in KCSE plummeted. This poor performance would later snowball into a serious crisis with several universities facing uncertainties. Teacher Training Colleges are on the verge of collapse for lack of students. I do not in any way support cheating or learners harvesting what they never planted. It was, however, wrong for the then CS to trigger a nationwide failure by releasing raw results in total disregard of the learning curve as observed by Prof Henry Indangasi recently.

The chief purpose of examining learners is to assess them to get feedback on whether they have understood the subjects. So when the country records a high number of failures, this must cause an inquiry to find out why. Here is a situation where students got Es and Ds without anyone caring to find out what the problem was. In 2016, only 9 per cent of all KCSE candidates made it to university, which was extremely below globally acceptable transition rate.

As such, Dr Fred Matiang'i's reforms at Jogoo House were cosmetic. He did not address the fundamental question of why students cheat. Instead, he went for the symptoms akin to using painkillers to treat malaria. There are a number of reasons why schools engage in cheating. One factor that fuels cheating is the backward practice of ranking students and schools. Another reason is lack of effective teaching. Learners who are not adequately prepared for the exams will be left with no other option than cheat.

Lastly, cheating in exams thrives because as a society we have elevated grades above holistic learning. The only utility we derive out of our years in school are nothing but grades.

-Mr Musanga is a political scientist and philosopher. [email protected]