Kenya: A Time to Be Honest About National Examinations

Published on 2nd January 2019

The dust has hardly settled after the release of Kenya’s KCPE and KCSE examinations that have elicited jubilation for a few students and parents and disappointment for many. It is puzzling why many students garnered grade D and below.

I have several reasons for fronting an honest discussion  about examination. First the exam results do not reflect a normal curve distribution of the population. Most of the students should be concentrated in the mean or median score which is around grade C+, C and C-. But in our case, the majority of the students are lying at the tail end of the normal curve with D+ and below. This skewed curve tells us that all is not well with our examinations. Either, the examination questions do not come from the syllabus or our teachers are not teaching.

As grown-ups, we need to be honest and accept the responsibility of making some students to feel a sense of entitlement for ‘passing’ in an exam where everybody else has ‘failed.’ This sense of entitlement is reflected in mannerisms of the Kenyan elite who, for example, do not give way on roads and will always want to receive preferential treatment. Words like ‘sorry’ or ‘excuse me’ do not exist in their vocabulary. Our angry drivers and alcoholic youth are a product of an education that taught them not to respect rules. We destroyed their dignity as human beings through examinations which labeled them as failures.

The skewed curve also tells us that something is wrong with the delivery of the subject matter in our schools. Are our teachers teaching? If they are not, what do they do every day when they report to school? What happened to the passionate teacher who took responsibility over the welfare of students? I remember with nostalgia my primary school headmaster, Mwalimu Lazarus Matheri. He always sought to bring out the best in his learners.  The Teachers Service Commission should seek to restore the image and dignity of the teacher. It needs to do some soul searching and come up with strategies that will dialogue with the teacher rather than handle them as criminals. We need a reinvention of the teacher to spur dedication.

The skewed curve defeats the very essence of tests and measurements in education. I remember Prof. Munavu’s and Ms Bali’s lessons that tests and measures are meant to help assess the coverage of subject matter and help in planning where to allocate resources in education. We are not allocating education resources where they should be. We should have come up with interventions for poor performing schools.

The skewed results also tell us that the environment under which the examination is being done is not right. The environment where teachers are absent and armed police man school examinations is unnatural. We need to measure the anxiety levels of students who are being subjected to this unnatural environment. While we are trying to control cheating we may be creating other problems for students.

Cheating in exams comes from the fact that we hire wrong people who cannot be trusted in our institutions because they are our relatives or belong to our ethnic affiliation. We have made education to be a preserve for the few. We stopped educating and transferring knowledge for human dignity and instead initiated a trend of educating people for jobs. We need to go back to the basic of education that makes students the best version of themselves.

By Dr. Mary Njeri Kinyanjui

The author is a researcher at the Institute for Development Studies, University of Nairobi. She is the author of Coffee Time, Vyama Institutions of hope, Women and informal Economy in Urban Africa and African Markets: Utu-Ubuntu business model and the African metropolis. marykinyanjui@yahoo.com


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