Hard questions linger over KCPE exam weeks later

Education CS Ezekiel Machogu before the committee education at Parliament Buildings, Nairobi, December 7, 2023. [Elvis Ogina, Standard]

The release of this year's Kenya Certificate of Primary Education (KCPE) exam results has elicited hard questions on the administration of the national tests. 

The latest was the claim by Azimio leader Raila Odinga that the printer had been changed, leading to the reported cases of malpractice. 

Raila on Wednesday claimed that the government had terminated the exam printing tender of a ‘UK-based company, Austin Printing Limited, after the firm declined to bribe some government officials. 

‘‘The Kenya Kwanza administration awarded the contract to a Mombasa Road based company  which later outsourced to a company based in India," claimed Raila. 

The statement by Raila could mean that the KCPE and KCSE examination papers may have been printed locally, potentially marking a departure from the longstanding practice of outsourcing the printing of examination papers abroad. 

Even though locally printing of the national examination papers was a recommendation of the Presidential Working Party on Education Reforms (PWPER), no official communication had been made. 

However, going by the trend that most recommendations of the task force led by educationist Prof Raphael Muluvi were rolled out long before final report was released, it is not easy to dismiss Raila’s claims. 

The revelations could mean that the age-old practice of outsourcing foreign printer service could have come to an end with the final KCPE examination. 

The decision to print examinations abroad was commonly believed to mitigate potential malpractices or dishonesty among those handling the test papers. 

Speaking in Parliament, Education Cabinet Secretary Ezekiel Machogu dismissed the claims saying that tenders of printing KCPE and KCSE test papers are done annually and no contract was cancelled. 

‘‘We have not terminated anybody’s contract. Every year we enter into a contract to print examinations. We, as a country, are even growing to the level of having the capacity to print examinations locally,’’ Machogu said. 

Machogu said that the exam printing contract is awarded in a competitive manner and there cannot be any way the government can terminate along the way. 

In his claims, Raila said the change in printer may have led to the marks mishaps that have dogged the release of this year’s results. 

Raila pointed at the delays witnessed in the delivery of the results via the short message service and misalignment of candidates scores in the 2023 KCPE examination. 

In a presentation before the National Assembly committee on Education the examination council indicated that they utilised newly acquired printers to produce this year's national examination papers, claiming a reinforced security system. 

“The security of the test items was further enhanced by procuring a confidential security printer to print all the 2023 KPSEA, KCPE and KCSE test papers with minimal human interactions,” the presentation by Knec Chief Executive David Njengere reads. 

And what may be a marked departure from use of the short messages to pull results, Principal Secretary Basic Education Dr Belio Kipsang said the SMS platform will not be used. 

He said going forward, the government will come up with a system of relaying the results.  

‘‘We are building systems which will be dependent on our resources that will be available to our candidates free of charge,’’ Dr Kipsang said. 

Machogu observed that the SMS platform results problem was caused by the truncation of data by the Service Provider, leading to the missing signs. 

He admitted that there was a misalignment of data for the Kiswahili and Kenya Sign Language. Marks for Kiswahili were presented as marks for Kenya Sign Language.

National Assembly Education committee chairman Julius Melly called the politician to desist from blowing the matter out of proportion.

‘‘Issues at hand are issues of our children, it is not the issues of political expediency.  I have seen several issue press statements which are not adding value. i wish to urge everyone to desist from that and go to the facts as they are released from the examination council,” Melly said.

Machogu further downplayed the claims that the results were released in a hurry leading to the glaring irregularities.

In a bid to prove the results met the required threshold, the CS took the committee through the process of marking, verification, and validation.

He explained that this year's examination took 22 days from marking to the release, compared to last year when it took 21 days and 19 days the previous year.

‘‘The time that was taken to process the 2023 KCPE results was the longest over the last eight year period since the 2016 reforms,’’ Machogu said.

On the issue of erroneous results sent on the short message service, the CS said there was a problem occasioned by a mishap in uploading the scores by the service provider.

Machogu maintained the candidates' true score were reflected in the school portal and the hard copy results sent to schools by the ministry.

Addressing delays in result dissemination via the SMS platform, the government officials appeared to shift blame on service providers.

Machogu stated that that the SMS platform results problem was caused by the truncation of data by the service provider, leading to the missing signs.

He explained that there was a misalignment of data for the Kiswahili and Kenya Sign Language. Marks for Kiswahili were presented as marks for Kenya Sign Language.

These are subjects in which more than one paper is combined to determine a candidates’ subject grade.

The glaring errors were caused by configuration issues on the interface used to access results data from the database of the Service Provider.

The CS observed that although the examination council adopted a SMS service as add service in relaying examination results, it is optional to parents.

‘‘The SMS results are not official results. The platform is only meant to provide an ease of access to the results,’’ Machogu said.

‘‘This year, anomalies of assigning different grades to identical marks were reported on the SMS platform. There were no such anomalies in the official results on the Knec portal and in the printouts sent to schools,’’ he added.