On the first day of the Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education (KCSE) examinations, Mary Wanjiru Macharia left her home early and headed to Naivasha sub-county headquarters to collect the examination papers for her students at Reverend Jeremiah Gitau Secondary School.
She did not get past the Longonot area on the Maai Mahiu-Naivasha road.
She died on the spot when the car she was travelling in rammed a stationary trailer around 5am. Two other principals in the car - David Kimani of Kiambogo Secondary School and John Kago of Blessed Mustard Seed School - survived but with serious injuries.
The tragic accident is one of the extreme perils of supervising the national examinations.
According to the rules introduced in 2016 to control the runaway examination cheating in previous years, centre managers (school heads) must arrive at the collection point before 6am, when the containers are opened.
This has forced many teachers to seek accommodation closer to the collection centres to avoid lateness (which is punishable) and other hazards on the road. This extra expense is, however, not catered for in the allowances they receive.
For their troubles, centre managers earn a daily allowance of Sh500, supervisors between Sh630 and Sh800, and invigilators Sh460 to Sh500. The security officers who accompany them get Sh420. The rates depend on where they are sent.
Knec rules require centre managers of schools situated along the same route to travel in teams for ease of logistics. All personnel carrying examination materials must travel in the official vehicle and are not allowed to use personal cars. The vehicle remains at the last drop off point from where it begins the return journey after the examinations come to a close.
At the centres, a raft of rules take off. Chief among these are restrictions on mobile phone use when examinations are in progress, requiring phone switch-off.
Cheating cartels have exploited mobile phone technology to circumvent the measures instituted by Knec to stop them. More than 100 phones have been confiscated in suspected cheating attempts in different schools this year.
Phones are used to take photographs of the examination papers, which are then sent to accomplices, mostly teachers, who work out the answers. The answers are then placed in toilets, for instance, where candidates can access them.
Some candidates receive answers as messages on hidden phones.
At St Teresa’s Boys’ Primary School, a private examination centre in Nairobi, 26 people were arrested and 35 mobile phones confiscated. Those arrested were suspected of using the mobile phones, some concealed in their private parts, to receive answers from an unknown source.
Other places where phones were confiscated include Diffu and Tawakal centres in Garissa County.
To catch mobile phone cheats, frisking of candidates is mandatory, and in case of strong suspicion, the process can be quite invasive. Invigilators then have to remain hawk-eyed throughout the examination period.
Serving as an examination official comes with honour for teachers but the threat of punishment, in case something goes wrong, is never far away.
“I’ll only relax when the results are released and given a clean bill of health,” a teacher from Kakamega County said.
Some teachers complained of intimidation by senior officials and “militarisation” of the examination. The early monitoring visits to schools by senior ministry officials, including Prof Magoha and PS Belio Kipsang, TSC and Knec bosses were said to be unnerving for both teachers and candidates.
A senior ministry official, however, blamed teachers for their predicament. “How come most of the cases of cheating have been detected by the security officers and not teachers? There needs to be honour among teachers where they report the rogue ones in their midst. We’re left with no option but to keep them on their toes,” he said.