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National examinations expose students to unfair competition

By Joab Apollo | January 9th 2016

The alleged cases of leakage reported during the Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education (KCSE) examinations have put to question those entrusted with managing the education sector. More worrying is that even international bodies like the World Bank have raised concern over the deteriorating education standards in Kenya.

Former Education Cabinet Secretary Jacob Kaimenyi refused to yield to pressure to cancel the 2015 KCSE exams despite claims of widespread leakage which the candidates shared on social media platforms like whatsApp and Facebook. He said the ministry had mechanisms to detect cheating. While it is in unfair to suggest that every candidate cheated, this dealt a blow to hardworking students whose sterling performance will now be put to question. Claims of exam leakage also dented the credibility of the Kenya National Examination Council (Knec).

The way forward does not lie on better remuneration of teachers. We messed up our education system the moment we pegged academic excellence on an examination done annually and ranked schools and students. This set grounds for cut throat competition where every school, student and teacher employed all manner of tactics to appear on newspaper pages.

The numerous cases of parents and teachers buying and selling examination materials prior to the examination day are efforts to ‚boost‘ performance.

The ranking of schools and students resulted in drilling. What students do in Kenyan schools today cannot pass as a search for intellectual accomplishment but mere rote memorisation of concepts. Few schools pay attention to the curriculum. They are busy revising past KCSE and KCPE exam papers in the hope that some of the questions will be repeated. It puts a heavy burden on learners who keep on panicking over fear of failing in the national examination. This has led to junks who forget everything the moment they get out of the examination room.

We cannot pride ourselves as the cradle of academic justice and fairness when we set all our schools to compete in a single examination, knowing very well there are some with no facilities and teachers. I don‘t see the reason why a student at a well-equipped school like Alliance High School should compete in the same examination with a student in a remote school like Katolo Secondary School in Nyando Constituency or why a pupil at Makini School in Nairobi should celebrate for beating his or her counterpart at Kaptildil Primary School in Nandi County.

This system is not good for development. It fosters inequality and diminishes the spirit of students from poor background. We should not force such students to sit the same examination as the children who have rich parents. That‘s why we should shift from school ranking and national examinations to a system that is not only fair to everyone, but also meets our goals and desires as a nation.

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