Kenyans have a right to know how their children performed

National exam results are now a top secret, accessible only to a few top government officials.

Friday March 4 2016

Moi High School Kabarak students celebrate at the school in Nakuru upon the release on the KCSE 2015 results on March 3, 2016. We celebrate success, we admire hard work, and nothing gives us more pleasure than to listen to the lofty aspirations of our children. There are very few occasions for such national celebration. Why take that away from parents, teachers, and children? PHOTO | SULEIMAN MBATIAH | NATION MEDIA GROUP

Moi High School Kabarak students celebrate at the school in Nakuru upon the release on the KCSE 2015 results on March 3, 2016. We celebrate success, we admire hard work, and nothing gives us more pleasure than to listen to the lofty aspirations of our children. There are very few occasions for such national celebration. Why take that away from parents, teachers, and children? PHOTO | SULEIMAN MBATIAH | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

By MUTUMA MATHIU
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National exam results are now a top secret, accessible only to a few top-ranking government officials.

This is not just baffling, it betrays an almost Stalinist attempt to control the minds of the public.

It is very unusual for a government to withhold routine information from the public, especially when it has no national security implications.

The Kenya Defence Forces have gone some way to scotch speculation about the number of troops killed in the recent attack on a base in Somalia.

Kenyans, including the press, have respected that in honour of the dead and to support the troops deployed in that land.

Exams are not like that at all. Cheating in this year’s Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education exam is up 70 per cent, according to the same information-hoarding ministry. That is a lot.

If decisive steps are not taken, very soon the Kenyan academic certificate will become like the Nigerian one: when you fish it out from among the dried fish in your bag, people will most likely smile knowingly and think - fake!

The assumption that if we do not know how schools and children compare with one other in performance then cheating will disappear appears to me to be baloney.

COMPETITION IS GREAT

I know there are parents who believe that achievement is not the point of life and will never ask their children what they have scored in school. That is one school. I believe that competition is great.

The desire to excel, to apply oneself and measure one’s achievement against those of others, that is an important part of the game of life.

Withholding information to which the public has a right is backward.

It leads to speculation that something untoward or incompetent is afoot.

Transparency and openness might be harder than secrecy and infantile mind games, but they are the intelligent way to go.

A country cannot claim to be democratic if it has to hide the test scores of its children.

It is unfair to parents because they are denied the information they need to plan the education of their children.

I thought folks were building apps that would give you an exam performance map of the country so that you can tell what schools are available and how they performed.

Parents choose schools based on two things: reputation and academic performance.

A school that has a history of good discipline and proper behaviour is attractive.

No one would want to take their children to a school known for drug abuse and a capacity to pump out failures.

Ranking is good for children. They learn to compete. Our leaders, who have access to billions of shillings of taxpayer money, do not live in Kenya.

They might be physically here, but in spirit they are in California, or Sydney, or some other majuu place.

But to the children of ordinary Kenyans, the ability to compete and excel in the midst of the hardships of a developing country is an essential survival skill.

NATIONAL CULTURE

The ceremonies of exam results are part of our national culture.

We celebrate success, we admire hard work, and nothing gives us more pleasure than to listen to the lofty aspirations of our children.

It makes the beastly conditions of our lives tolerable. We love to dance, thank God, and show off the success of our children and schools.

The exam season is one of joy and happiness, sometimes even among those who have not done so well.

There are very few occasions for such national celebration. Why take that away from parents, teachers, and children?

Finally, the performance of every school must be hung out for the world to see.

It is the best accountability tool. It makes it hard to cook the results since everything is done in the open.

Also, when a school that was hitherto not doing well suddenly becomes a centre of excellence, there is pressure for that school to demonstrate its path to sudden success.

Parents should sue the minister for the national results - analysis, rankings and all.

*****

One of the Daily Nation’s senior reporters was threatened by a top security official over a story we were running on Wednesday night.

Besides getting people back to the office to read the story yet again and confirm every comma, we were also figuring out protective measures for the reporter, who was forced underground for a while.

In the middle of the night, with my children sleeping peacefully around me, the same official promised that the publication of the story “is going to mess you big time”.

If it were three years ago, I would have sat on my computer and fired off a letter of protest to the head of the public service over this violation of press freedom and our constitutional rights as Kenyans.

But you would do that if you thought that the conduct of a government official is at variance with that of his colleagues.

I mean, the Parliamentary Editor of the Daily Nation was arrested the other day for reporting the proceedings of a parliamentary committee.

I do not think I will bother to complain, but it saddens me that Kenya is going back to that hole. It saddens me even more that Kenyans are OK with that.

[email protected] Twitter: @mutuma_mathiu

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