By dissolving the board of the Kenya National Examinations Council (KNEC), Education Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang’i has taken the boldest and yet most impactful decision of his almost four-year-long Cabinet career.
The dissolution represents the nadir in the history and reputation of the administration of examinations in Kenya.
Indeed, the appointment of Prof George Magoha, the immediate former University of Nairobi (UoN) Vice-Chancellor, to chair a new board and chart its direction, points to the seriousness with which the government views the crisis in the management of examinations.
In a no-nonsense statement, Dr Matiang’i captured and conveyed the mood of the government to a stunned public but which immediately began to appreciate the enormity of the problem: “We cannot continue living this way. We cannot continue entertaining this kind of nonsense.
Examination leakage in schools must stop,” declared Dr Matiang’i.
And Dr Matiang’i was not done; he said the government was committed to ensuring that those who have been involved in the leakage of examinations would be held accountable.
That is coded and when deciphered it simply means Dr Matiang’i would like to see those who have been members of the dissolved board, and others who have leaked examinations, arrested and arraigned on criminal charges.
Leaking of examinations is not new; what appears to have alarmed Dr Matiang’i & Co at the Ministry of Education and in government is the massive scale of leakage, the number of subjects affected, the spread of the test papers across the land and just how readily available for sale the examination papers were last year.
In previous years when media have reported the leakage of examinations or the availability of test papers for sale, KNEC has had a knee jerk reaction; deny and dissemble, buy time for the matter to die down and then retort with an attack on the media, reaffirm the denial and conclude by giving the council a clean bill of health.
This must explain Dr Matiangi’s choice of phraseology in the angry paragraph I have quoted above.
ENSURE FAIR PLAY
Kenyans take the education of their children religiously; they scrimp and save, work early and late and day and night and deny themselves plenty in order that they may take their children to school and college. For pupils and students, examinations are the be-all and end-all of primary, secondary and tertiary levels of education.
When it comes to mitihani, Kenyans, to a man and woman, leave it to the government to even the playground and ensure fair play by all in all and for all.
But, alas, enter the exam leakers. Why do they leak? To give advantage to their children, the children of their relatives and friends. They leak to give advantage to schools of their choice. They leak to line their pockets. They leak to disadvantage other children, teachers, schools and regions.
By leaking, they distort the playground which law abiding citizens believe and trust KNEC will even.
Who leaks the examinations? This is for certain: People outside KNEC cannot leak examinations. They can only be accomplices enlisted by insiders.
The leakage can only originate from within the KNEC. And there’s the rub; whichever way one defines it, whatever language one uses, the mandate of KNEC is to ensure and safeguard the integrity of each and any of Kenya’s public examinations it administers and the attendant certificates and diplomas it awards.
And, again, there’s the rub: The KNEC has compromised the integrity of its own examinations and therefore the certificates and diplomas. And this the tragedy: More than 5,000 young people have had their worlds turned upside down and thrown into uncertainty and their parents remain on edge. Something had to give.
Listen to Dr Matiang’i: “The government has decided that it is time for us to act and reform the institution (KNEC) and restore its credibility.” And, therefore, President Kenyatta appointed Prof Magoha “to direct the new board members to reform and re-engineer the operations of KNEC” as well as “conduct a thorough audit/review of the entire examinations system and processes to enhance security and integrity” of national examinations.
The choice of Dr Magoha would appear to lend credence to the government’s commitment to reforming and streamlining KNEC. He is one of Kenya’s and Africa’s best respected academics and medics who, as UoN boss, helped establish Kenya’s premier university as a world class institution.
A disciplined professor of surgery and urologist, he has the reputation of a results-oriented administrator. His high -level administrative experience and surgeon’s scalpel should stand him in good stead in diagnosing and treating KNEC’s sicknesses and prescribing the modus operandi for the immediate, medium and longer terms.
Kenyans expect nothing but a clean break between the dissolved KNEC and the incoming one.