The government must take decisive action to ensure the integrity of Kenya’s national examinations and enhance the quality of education.
The measures must go beyond cancellation of exam results, job appraisals, and teacher performance contracts that the government has proposed.
Lamentably, the 2015 Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education recorded the highest number of examination cheating cases in history, rising by 71 per cent from 2,975 in 2014 to 5,101.
As long as the education system continues to focus on grades and not learning, cheating in national examinations will continue to rise as students only look forward to passing exams.
On the one hand, schools place more value on the mean score as a selling point.
Learners too feel that they stand to get a better future if they score impressively. This is good.
However, when dubious means like cheating and cramming are used to attain impressive performances, it does not add value to the future of an individual.
Students risk being selected for university courses on the strength of their scores, only to struggle and later drop out of college or their professions.
It is not just teachers and students who are to blame. In many homes in Kenya, the favourite child is the high academic achiever.
This motivates children to pay for exam leakages using their pocket money or other dubious means.
Some schools have evolved a system where teachers are paid for every A scored.
This means that teachers will do anything and everything, including stealing exams, to ensure that their students do well. The end result is that academic standards are compromised.
Corruption is another key factor that is contributing to the debasing of education standards.
Certainly, the problem is not the youth - they are simply learning from what they see and hear from the adults.
Recent studies show that young people are highly tolerant of corruption, most of them saying that they admire those who get their money by “hook or crook”.
They argue that it does not matter how people make their money so long as they do not go to jail.
Values are not taught or learned; they are absorbed. The link between the soaring levels of graft in the country and the increase in examination cheating is clear.
The fact that corruption seems to be tolerated and that there are no painful consequences for the culprits means that exams will continue to be sold and bought.
The problem with exam leakages starts and ends with the Kenya National Examinations Council (Knec).
To seal these loopholes, several heads have to roll and the process of administering examinations strengthened.
This will ensure that the council gains control of the examination-setting process and the eventual distribution of exam materials.
Equally important, the Ministry of Education must commit itself to cleaning up Mitihani House to ensure that the education standards are not compromised any further.
Examination invigilation should be closely monitored to ensure that school heads and teachers do not collude with supervisors and invigilators to leak the exams.
Increase in the level of cheating in examinations is a clear indication that there are inadequate controls on the ground.
If examinations were as well-guarded as the government has always insisted that they are, cheating would be unheard of.
PENALTIES FOR TEACHERS
To discourage the vice, the State should introduce hefty fines and penalties for teachers, schools, supervisors, invigilators, and students found to be involved in cheating.
Cancellation of exam results is not enough.
The government should know that the proposed teachers performance appraisals are not enough to cure what ails education.
Both the teachers and the pupils should be prepared to go the extra mile by completing the syllabus early enough to allow time for revision.
Early and sufficient revision will see schools identify their candidates’ weaknesses and address them.
Schools should go back to the famous discussion groups of the 1990s, where weak students were put together up with the strong ones to help build their ability to understand and tackle standard examination questions.
Ultimately, the Ministry of Education and all the stakeholders, including Knec and school heads, need to go back to the drawing board and put in place robust measures to enhance our education standards
Mr Obonyo is the author of Conversations About the Youth in Kenya. [email protected]