So you got an A in KCSE? Big deal! It has lost meaning today

I failed the Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education exams.

Wednesday March 9 2016

Kitui School students celebrate after receiving the 2015 KCSE results on March 3, 2016. The school managed a mean grade of 8.46, up from 2014's 7.59 exams. The school scored six A minus, 22 B plus, 26 B plain, 27 B-, 14 C+, eight C plain and three C minus. PHOTO | THOMAS WAITA | NATION MEDIA GROUP

Kitui School students celebrate after receiving the 2015 KCSE results on March 3, 2016. The school managed a mean grade of 8.46, up from 2014's 7.59 exams. The school scored six A minus, 22 B plus, 26 B plain, 27 B-, 14 C+, eight C plain and three C minus. PHOTO | THOMAS WAITA | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

By LARRY MADOWO
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I failed the Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education exams. I flunked so badly, that some of my relatives were sufficiently scandalised to demand that I repeat Form Four and apply myself better.

That was never going to happen as I had already developed a healthy disdain for academics in general, and its most favoured method of torture in particular – examinations.

During the exam period, I stayed up late with my colleagues, but not to revise like they were doing. I was burning the midnight oil finishing a good novel. Pretending to catch up on what I had missed over the last four years was a waste of perfectly good electricity. I never went back.

Back then, an A grade meant something, and we didn’t have the national exams circulating on WhatsApp days before it was sat. Those who came out with that all-important top grade were the crème of the education system, assured of the “lucrative courses” such as medicine, actuarial science and architecture.

The rest trooped to Bachelor of Arts degrees, or Bachelor of Being Around, as they are known in campus halls. Overall, 78 per cent of students currently in tertiary institutions of learning are studying arts and humanities courses. Only 22 per cent go into STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics).

The 2015 KCSE exam results lost all meaning, with a record number of A grades recorded. The Kenya National Union of Teachers (Knut) wanted the exam postponed and decried the ministry’s intransigence that allowed it to go on.

Knut Secretary-General, Wilson Sossion, was still livid after the results were announced, slamming the credibility of the whole exercise. Watching in studio, education lecturer, Dr Andrew Riechi, vigorously agreed. All Education Cabinet Secretary Dr Fred Matiang’i said was that the exams were carried out “under fairly challenging circumstances”. An understatement does not even begin to describe it.

WIDESPREAD CHEATING

What is obvious is that there was widespread cheating in last year’s exam. Official statistics say there was a 70 per cent rise in cheating, with 5,101 cases reported, but those are just the ones that got caught. Many people agree that cases of cheating were much higher.

A meme doing the rounds after the results were announced couldn’t have put it better in its snark. “If your child did not score an A, it is because they were too dumb to even remember answers to a paper they had already seen.” That is the sad truth – the papers were everywhere. Any student with access to the Internet and a little opportunity could have obtained the actual exam papers at least a day before.

Even after all the cheating evidence was presented to the Kenya National Examinations Council (Knec), the Ministry of Education and the police, almost nothing was done.

“All reported cases have been exhaustively investigated using procedures that have been put in place to ensure that standards are maintained from year to year,“ Dr Matiang’i said. Most of the students who scored As would probably fail spectacularly if they were subjected to a pre-university entrance exam.

Unofficially, there are countless stories of terribly average performers who still ended up with strong As when the final results came out. None of these were miracles, despite what their parents and teachers would want you to think.

The obvious question is why an A is so highly regarded, as if it were a key to a lifetime of success and prosperity. The obvious answer is that in most cases, it is. As a result, the pressure to perform is so high, that most students would do anything just to get there.

If a teacher, or parent, offers to give them the exact paper they will sit, they will not think twice about it. In 2015, everyone was doing it, so it must have been even harder to resist, knowing that undeserving halfwits would do better than you. Now the floodgates have been opened as schools will try to outdo their previous results. It will be open season this year.

I left high school with a B minus, the final sentence after four years of massive potential but hardly any focus. I was dead set against repeating, so I had to make the best of it and I would like to think I did.

Fully aware of my limited abilities but with a seemingly innate talent for obfuscation, I set out in search for a career where this might be useful.

Law narrowly lost out to journalism as I decided to talk up my non-existent skills into gainful employment. Much to everyone’s amazement — mine the most — I convinced a bunch of suits to hire me. So you see, an A is not everything.

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