Education system needs urgent reform

The rise in cheating cases puts to question the credibility of our national examinations.

Friday March 4 2016

By EDITORIAL
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The main highlight of last year’s Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education exam was the phenomenal rise in the number of cheating cases that put to question the credibility of our national examinations.

Some 5,101 candidates were found to have cheated and consequently, their results were cancelled.

Also, eight schools had their entire results cancelled for irregularities. Even more disturbing was the spread of the cheating.

All the counties, except Isiolo, recorded cases of cheating, demonstrating how prevalent and entrenched the vice has become.

Consequently, Education Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang’i announced that he was working with his Internal Security counterpart, Mr Joseph Nkaissery, to investigate and report to the public those behind the cheating and the steps being taken to weed out the vice.

He announced a two-month deadline to make public the findings of the investigations and remedies.

What happened last year was horrifying. As we reported at the time, exams were widely accessible to candidates through mobile phones and tablets long before they were done and unfortunately, despite our consistent reporting, the Kenya National Examinations Council kept denying and dismissing the reports.

SERIOUS RETHINK

Clearly, the examination system is leaking and calls for a serious rethink.

Already, the council is reeling from corruption claims regarding printing, which has since seen its printers jailed and fined in the UK.

Their local counterparts, who were mentioned in the scam, unfortunately, have not been reined in.

The minister must take drastic action, overhaul the council, and give it a new direction.

Unless urgent measures are taken, the country’s exams and certificates risk being discredited and Kenyan nationals locked out of higher education and jobs abroad.

Besides the cheating, the exams continued to reveal glaring disparities in terms of performance by subject, gender, and region.

English, mathematics, chemistry, biology, and general science were among the subjects that were poorly done, with a mean grade of less than 50 per cent.

The importance of these subjects cannot be gainsaid.

They count for university admission and, most significantly, form the basis for admission to high-profile courses such as engineering and technology.

Further, they are the cornerstone for the country’s industrialisation goals.

For this reason, Dr Matiang’i announced that he had formed an inter-agency task force to examine the root cause of the consistent poor performance in the subjects and make suggestions of the remedial actions to be taken.

TASK FORCE IMPLEMENTATION

However, this has been the trend and previous ministers have promised to deal with the challenge, but little has been done.

The onus is on Dr Matiang’i to follow through the outcomes of the task force and ensure that they are acted upon.

At another level, counties in the northern region and the coast continued to register fewer numbers of candidates, especially females, indicating that the efforts towards equity are yet to be achieved.

In particular, it was noted that females did not register for some subjects such as building and construction, power mechanics, electricity, and drawing and design.

The implication is that females are automatically locked out of such courses at the tertiary and university levels. This continues to perpetuate gender disparities.

In terms of transition, a third of the candidates qualified to join university, having obtained grade C+ and above.

The challenge, however, is that the bulk of the 165,766 candidates will miss places in public universities, which on average admit about 70,000.

While many options exist under the parallel degree programmes in public universities and the massively expanded private universities, this only works for those from families that can afford the fees charged.

Overall, last year’s KCSE exams must provide the impetus for reforming the entire education system, ranging from the curriculum, teaching methods, and examination.

We must depart from the summative assessment that lends itself to manipulation. 

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