The cancellation of KCSE exam results of 5,100 candidates accused of cheating was the highest in the history of the national examination, surpassing the previous highest figure of 3,812 in 2013.
Earlier, when KCPE results were released in December, 2,709 candidates had their results cancelled, again for cheating.
Yet the Kenya National Examinations Council (Knec) kept denying reports that test papers were available before they were administered. Instead, it blamed everyone else, including the police, teachers and parents — never its own officers. It was just a matter of time before something gave.
When Education Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang’i dissolved the Knec Board on Wednesday and his Interior counterpart, Mr Joseph Nkaissery, ordered the arrest of top examination officials, the die appeared to have been cast and the public now expects those found culpable to be prosecuted.
When results of some 2,880 Form Four candidates were cancelled for cheating in 2000, President Daniel arap Moi directed Education Minister Kalonzo Musyoka to conduct thorough investigations to determine the cause of what was then regarded as massive cheating.
Consequently, Mr Musyoka appointed a task force that, among others, determined that the major cause was collusion. Then, cell phones were a rarity and social media had not become as widespread as it is today.
The main causes of cheating back then were collusion between principals/teachers and invigilators. The other was impersonation of candidates.
Wednesday, Dr Matiang’i said cheating occurs both within and outside the exam council. But he was categorical that the systems at the exams council were inherently deficient.
“It is abundantly clear from information so far received and a review of the operations of Knec that the institution has very fundamental systemic challenges that must be decisively and conclusively addressed in order to ensure the national examination processes remain credible and continue to meet the expected high standards of integrity,” he said.
The setting, printing, distributing, administering and processing of national exams has become fatally flawed over time. Some exam setters have been notorious for leaking the exams.
The questions are put in a bank but the subject setters collude and share out the questions that they set and collectively they are able to predict what is likely to be examined.
Historically, exam papers are printed in the UK and this, in itself, has been the subject of a corruption scandal now known as the “Chicken” scandal, where top officials, among them, former chief executive Paul Wasanga were accused of receiving bribes from the printer.
The others were Mr Ephraim Wanderi and Mr Michael Ndua, the principal supply chain management officer.
Mr Ndua is one of the officers arrested yesterday. Despite having been mentioned in the “Chicken” scandal, he has never been interrogated and continued to serve at the council.
But the point here is that the process of procuring is influenced by bribes and that raises questions about the integrity of the exams.
The worst stages are distribution and administration of the question papers. Exam papers are distributed and stored in armouries at police stations to guarantee security.
However, it is from here that many papers are leaked. Usually, pictures are taken and circulated through social media hours before the candidates sit the exams.
In some schools, the cheating is organised. Once teachers receive the leaked questions, they organise revision sessions for the candidates where they go through the questions, hours before the exams are administered.