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Pain of exam uncertainty for parents and candidates

By Josaya Wasonga | June 7th 2020

Before schools were indefinitely closed, my daughter was burning the midnight oil to pass her national exams and, hopefully, gain admission to a national school. She is a candidate in this year’s Kenya Certificate of Primary Education (KCPE) exams.

Many nights, I’d see the light in her bedroom on way past midnight. When I peeped into her bedroom, I’d find her seated on the bed with books on her lap and others on the bed all around her. Other nights, when I woke up at 3am to pray, she would wake up to study. There were times I would tell her to sleep, because I thought she was driving herself too hard.

But her efforts were paying off. In a continuous assessment test her school offered for KCPE candidates, she topped her class. This was her first time to achieve this. She was looking forward to using this feat as precursor to getting good grades in successive pre-KCPE exams so that when the “big one” came, she would be mentally and academically prepared. 

Then Covid-19 happened, and threw a never-before-seen spanner in the works. It does not help matters, for both parents and exam candidates, that we have been conditioned that national exams happen at a certain time of the year.

We have been conditioned that school terms - and school calendar years - start and end at certain specific times. Now, as time drags on and our children are at home, we are worried about what will become of them. 

I’ve always encouraged my daughter to study; not merely to pass her exams, but to, ultimately, better her life. I am still encouraging her. However, at times, it’s hard to encourage her because, as far as doing her national exams is concerned, the future looks a little vague. If and when there’s a set date for the national exams, the excitement and anticipation is palpable to parents, teachers and students. 

Late last year, when I went to Pudd’ng’s school to help her pick the high schools she would love to join in 2021, she and her classmates had already started the countdown to the national exams. They knew the exact number of days that remaining, down to even the hour, for them to sit for KCPE. 

As time ticked, and they saw it on the chalkboard, they - so to speak - pulled up their socks. The imminent eventuality was, of itself, one of the best encouragement ploys. 

The candidates in my daughter’s school had even started that ritual we did way back when in school; writing the number of remaining days on the chalkboard and then, as each day passed, they would do the countdown manually, via chalk and duster. Like for us before them, this ploy would keep their eyes on the big task ahead, besides keeping them motivated. 

But now, with no definite exam date, the time factor that was encouraging our daughter has been removed. 

Speaking of motivation; parents and teachers had met and come up with strategies to motivate students and teachers. We even had an average, which they had started getting closer to when they did the first exam after schools opened for term one. Each student had also been given a target, and there were modalities to encourage them and help them hit their targets. 

When my daughter is doing her exams, and even when she tells me how she has performed, I tell her that she should aim for self-improvement. I tell her that she should first compete with herself. 

But I’ll be lying to say that this is the only thing that motivates Pudd’ng. I know she’s motivated when, like during that first exam of first time, she beat a classmate who always tops the class for the first time. I know that made her feel like she can beat any other kid in this nation. That alone was enough encouragement for her. I know this because, after she got the results, she studied harder and longer than I’ve ever seen her study before. 

Also, being in a traditional classroom set-up encourages our children to strive to excel.
Now, we have to find ways to encourage Pudd’ng and let her know that all the sleep she lost, and all the hours she put in, and all the sacrifices she made will, eventually, pay off. 

As the government grapples with the issue of school reopening, parents are grappling with how to encourage our candidate children, and make them trust that all’s well that ends well. It’s not far-fetched to think that some will require professional guidance and counselling to help them deal with this issue that affects their future.

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