A special investigation report has linked the wave of strikes in secondary schools to the tough measures aimed at curbing cheating in national examinations to be administered in three months
Students are apprehensive that they are unlikely to get their way during the exams and, therefore, are resorting to strikes to blackmail school authorities to bow to their demands. Until two years ago, it was common for students to collude and cheat in exams, sometimes with connivance of their teachers and even parents and guardians. However, this has since been made more difficult by the strict rules introduced under the stewardship of Dr Fred Matiang’i when he was the Cabinet Secretary for Education.
The new investigations commissioned by the Education Ministry reports that at least 30 secondary schools have been hit by unrest since the beginning of the year. In the last week alone, at least five schools have gone on strike and in one case, Chalbi Secondary School in Marsabit, the students beat up and injured six teachers.
According to the report prepared by the Ministry’s Quality Assurance and Standards, students in most of the affected schools wanted their principals to make a commitment that they would help them to cheat in the Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education (KCSE) examinations, slated for October and November.
The principals and teachers in the affected schools reported that they were being put under pressure to abet cheating, failure to which the students take to strike.
So far, Eastern region has reported the highest cases of strikes, at 16, Rift Valley has seven while Nyanza and Coast have five cases each. Most of these were sporadic in the previous months but the frequency has increased in the past two weeks.
Most of the affected schools have new principals, some of who had been tasked to stop rampant cheating in the institutions following a survey of “marked” schools based on reports on examinations in previous years. For example, Form Fours in Ortum Secondary School went on strike in May because their newly-appointed principal failed to guarantee to assist them to cheat in the exams.
“Students wanted the principal to declare that he will assist candidates during the KCSE examinations,” the report said of the Ortum unrest.
The report reveals that students were demanding the removal of new principals when the heads resisted the demands to aid in cheating. Such headteachers were then declared enemies - a hindrance to the students’ devious designs.
So far, the worst case of unrest was at Chalbi Boys School in Marsabit County, where students claimed that non-local teachers were out to block them from cheating in the tests. They also alleged that the six teachers were behind the cancellation of the school's results last year.
A separate report on the Chalbi School attack submitted to TSC says: “The purported reason for the attack on non-local teachers was that they were responsible for giving information to Kenya National Examinations Council (Knec) that led to cancellation of the 2017 KCSE results which in turn made their principal to be interdicted”. It indicates that the students who attacked the teachers were among 70 repeaters who had rejoined the school to sit this year’s KCSE following the cancellation of last year’s exam results.
Nine students arrested in connection with Chalbi School violence as well as the deputy principal, Mr Mesfin Gabriel Mekinon, are due to be charged in court for violence. The principal, Mr Paul Boya, has been interdicted.
On Friday, Education Principal Secretary Bellio Kipsang restated that the unrest was due to exam phobia. However, he was categorical that the ministry will not relent but will instead intensify the crackdown on exam cheating and institute even more strict measures.
“We have brought in 40 new containers to reduce the distance between centres and will address the challenge of opening of examination material early," said Dr Kipsang. “We are working to ensure the integrity of examinations is maintained. We are liaising with the police so that they can deal with criminals in schools. They will not be considered students but criminals and as a ministry we will not stand between the police and criminals.”
He directed county education boards to work with county commissioners to avert school strikes.
The rising cases of strikes and arson cases in schools come against the backdrop of pre-examination surveillance recently launched by Education Cabinet Secretary Amina Mohamed to pre-empt irregularities in KCSE. Last week, she visited Rift Valley and Central regions where she inspected examination containers.
Last Saturday, she presided over a function at Mang'u High School, where she cautioned candidates against exam cheating.
"We must make sure that the exams are a reflection of hard work. I don't want anybody to cheat you that they know what will be in those exam papers. Nobody knows," said the CS.
And as cases of school unrest continue across the country, a report prepared by a taskforce two years ago on school strikes is yet to implemented.
The taskforce that was chaired by former provincial administrator Claire Omollo made radical proposals that were to be implemented within two years. Then, in 2016, the country witnessed inordinately high numbers of strikes, 483, but which went down to 67 last year.