On 30 November, a week from now, 2016 KCSE candidates will be sitting for their last exam paper.
Presumably, many will sigh with relief. The days of cut-throat revision will be behind them. And the familiar weight that many a candidate feel pressing on their chests during examinations will be long gone.
Yet, just as they will be pulling the curtain on that chapter of their lives, so will they be opening a new one — one with greater influence on their destinies.
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This, is a fact that Julius Weche, an academician and founder of Akad Education Group — which mentors young minds, attests to.
“What they do at this time has a greater bearing on where they will end up,” Weche says.
He adds: “It is only natural that each strives to perform well. And such should be encouraged. They should however, know that who they become has more to do with their resolve than the grades they will achieve after KCSE.”
In 2015, Doris Kendi wrote history by being the first Kenyan to reach the virgin continent of Antarctica. She is also the youngest person in the world to do so.
“These are feats that I never imagined I would achieve in my life – especially after a not-so-encouraging performance in my KCSE,” she told us shortly before the Antarctica odyssey.
Doris sat for her national examinations at Kangubiri High School in Nyeri, managing a mean grade of ‘C’. It was an average performance by any definition but to Doris it felt like failure.
“Some of my classmates had done so well they were sure of slots at the university,” she recalls.
Doris admits to stirrings of envy, quite normal for a competitive young adult, especially since her dream to become a lawyer were all but dashed. However, instead of pining over the setback, she pulled herself up by the bootstraps and began conceptualising what she could do with her life.
“I went through catalogues to find suitable careers that I could go into. I found one and applied to study at college,” she says.
Doris graduated with a diploma in Food Science then aggressively sought for an internship position at Nairobi Bottlers, which she eventually got. The rest, as they say, is history.
Doris is currently a line manager at Coca Cola, where she is celebrated as a maverick among her peers. But, was her growth and success a fluke or by design?
“I would say it was a combination of focus, self-drive and personal ethics. No doubt I had my own moments of doubt but at every juncture I found a solution to keep me going,” she says.
Yet, she does not deny, that she too was prone to the whims of retrogressive peers who prodded her to give up, to let go and let life run its course.
“It is a very widespread phenomenon and mainly because competition is stiff. There are young people, who at first encounter with this competition, grow weary and stop trying. Then they start feeling that their lives have stagnated,” Weche says.
It is a subject that he addresses with authority having nurtured hundreds of students to turn around their academic prospects.
One of Weche’s beneficiaries is Michael Mutie – currently studying Electrical Engineering in Mauritius on a scholarship.
Just like Doris, Michael also scored a C when he sat for his KCSE in 2012. He says: “I knew that if I wanted to move myself over to where I wanted to be it was going to take sacrifice, discipline and dedication.”
As a first step, Michael joined the Akad education group where he attended seminars and career talks that changed his outlook towards life.
“What this did for me was to reinforce my belief that there is still hope for me to realise my dream. I had always wanted to study electrical engineering,” he says.
Meanwhile, he worked at Oxford University Press, clearing and dispatching books. While the pay was low, it was work he says kept his mind active and his eyes firmly on where he wanted to go.
He would later design and produce a prototype windmill with a charging system. He also modeled an iron box with dual functions — ironing and heating water.
“I did not rest on my laurels waiting for life to happen. I believe that was the strength on which I received the scholarship,” Michael says.
The belief that failure at KCSE translates to failure in life is deeply entrenched in our society and it is one that 23-year-old Lawrence Kaloki is determined to transcend.
His KCSE result, a B-, does not even point to failure. He, however, struggled to find fees for college education — a situation that found him struggling to eke out a living.
His fortune has, however, now changed. Not long ago, despite not having any college papers, Lawrence got a job at Bidco Africa, previously Bidco Oil Refineries, located in Thika.
“Before this, I had applied for many jobs but did not receive any calls for interview or offers. Then I heard about a free training programme which I attended and which changed my life,” he says.
Dubbed ‘Generation’ and ran by the McKinsey group, the programme offered Lawrence — and other successful applicants — a chance to chart a new path.
For six weeks, Lawrence sat for a crash course in sales and marketing where not just academics were tested but mentorship was also offered.
“We went through skills such as answering interview questions and were placed for job interviews with various firms. I passed mine at Bidco and got the job,” he says.
What a twist of fate in a world where graduates are finding it hard to break into employment?
Lawrence cites luck and ambition noting that he has hawked eggs and sausages on the streets and even worked as a tout.
Whatever the case, in passing this job interview he has no doubt torn a page off the conventional employment rule book — that says papers are essential to acquire a job.
To Weche, Lawrence’s example gives credibility to what he has observed over the years as he works with students — it is the self-driven ones that achieve their dreams.
“Often, it is that quality that sets them apart. You could have performed among the best at KCSE but if you cease taking initiative you are likely to achieve nothing. It is until you make deliberate effort that things will work out for you,” he says.