Education Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang’i has found himself in the middle of a fresh storm as questions continue on the marking, processing and release of last year’s Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education (KCSE) examinations.
On Saturday, Opposition leader Raila Odinga piled more pressure on Dr Matiang’i, who has been praised for his handling of primary and secondary school national examinations whose credibility had been damaged by widespread cheating, adding to calls for an audit by teachers’ unions.
This comes as concerns continue on the fate of thousands of candidates who failed to make the university cut-off admission points with the possibility that MPs could be sucked into the debate.
Mr Odinga, the Cord leader, has termed the examination marking and transmission process a sham and demanded a commission of inquiry to audit the KCSE results. He wants disciplinary action to be taken on all those found “culpable in perpetrating the mass failure”.
“This is the first time we have had such a massive failure at the secondary school level since 1963. Eliminating cheating, corruption and mismanagement alone cannot adequately explain the weird outcome in our national examinations,” he said.
“The Jubilee Government wants Kenyans to believe that out of the over 577,000 students who sat KCSE exam in 2016, only 15 per cent had the brains to take up university courses in Kenya. This is where we were as a nation almost 30 years ago,” he said.
The Kenya National Union of Teachers (Knut), the Kenya Union of Post Primary Education Teachers (Kuppet) and the opposition have now demanded that the results released on December 29 be cancelled and the exams be remarked.
Knut claims Dr Matiang’i hijacked the marking process from the examiners and, in the process, ended up hurting Kenyan children.
Kenya Universities and Colleges Placement Service (KUCCPS) has moved to call students to make applications for tertiary institutions of their choice even before the noise about the shocking poor results dies down.
The placement service usually makes calls for students to apply for university courses at the end of April.
Just over 437,000 students who sat the exams last year failed as they did not score a grade of C plain and above.
The fate of more than 44,000 students who scored C plain and hoped to join universities either through the Module Two programme (popularly known as the parallel programme) or enrol in private institutions of higher learning still hangs in the balance as Dr Matiang’i insisted last week that the grade for admission would remain C+.
The government has, however, said it will absorb all the 88,929 candidates who scored between A and C+ leaving no room for private universities and public universities to enrol privately- sponsored students.
Knut has already written to the Clerk of the National Assembly seeking Parliament’s intervention while demanding that the results of all students be recalled.
The union, which has carried out an investigation of its own, says the Kenya National Examinations Council (Knec) overlooked various steps during the marking which, it says, was done with a pre-determined outcome leading to the “abnormal” results.
On Saturday, the union’s secretary- general, Mr Wilson Sossion, accused the ministry of condemning and destroying the lives of students in the name of cleaning up the education system. He said teachers are willing to fight to the bitter end until the exams are remarked.
“Do you clean up the education system by using the blood and lives of children? We accept change because, yes, cheating has been eliminated but that is where they should have stopped. They shouldn’t have gone further by using unconventional methods of processing results,” he said.
PROTECT EDUCATION STANDARDS
He added: “Is Matiang’i an angel from heaven? It is our duty as teachers to protect the standards of education because there are no reforms here. These are just operas to entertain the public and they should stop pretending that they are cleaning the system.”
Dr Matiang’i has, however, stuck to his guns.
“The rules are simple. You get a C plus, you qualify for university, you get a C plain, you qualify for a diploma and, if you perform well in university, you can advance for a masters. So what contingencies are we talking about?” he told the Nation.
“When those students were sitting exams, the government did not write them on their behalf so those are their own marks. Education should never be based on numbers or money because it is about qualifications unless you have your own agenda,” he said.
Kuppet chairman Omboko Milemba says the Minister usurped the role of Knec.
“What is the multiplier effect of what he has done? It means there are over 100,000 useless Kenyans he has created. If we follow his way, we are headed for disaster,” he said, adding that marking should have been left to the professionals.
Among the issues the two unions and Mr Odinga raise is the lack of moderation after marking the exams which they say would have led to a normal curve that balances the number of students who have failed and those who have passed.
This curve has been fairly consistent over the years until last year.
“An E in mathematics may be 21 marks and below. An E in history and government, which I teach, may be 40 marks and below. When you equalise the E for history and the E for mathematics what you get is a disaster,” said Mr Milemba.
“Usually after marking, chief examiners and their assistants sit and determine the performance of students on a particular paper. They then standardise the results based on performance,” he said.
Mr Sossion claims one of the reasons there was a huge drop in results is because Knec used a uniform grading system which favoured performances in humanities and essentially girls.
USE UNIFORM GRADING
“Exams must be marked and processed within the framework of international standards and professional premises and moderation is one of them. You cannot use a uniform grading system for history and mathematics,” he said.
“That doesn’t work and it will give a skewed outcome. That is why we have more girls scoring C plus and above than boys. Do you want to tell me that practically can happen in Kenya?” he asked.
Traditionally boys have performed better than girls which makes the government to lower the cut-off points for girls by about two points through affirmative action each year. In 2015 the cut-off point for boys was 60 points while that for girls was 58.
But despite this affirmative action, more boys than girls qualify to join university. According to the 2015 results boys, who numbered 257,326, made up 60 per cent of total university enrolment while the total number of girls was 169,708.
Last year, 16 students in the top 20 performers in the exams were girls while nine out of the best 20 schools were girls’ schools, three were mixed schools, while eight were boys’ schools. Consequently 50,388 girls have qualified for university, representing 57 per cent, compared to 38,514 for boys, a dramatic shift from previous years.
Mr Odinga, while applauding Dr Matiang’i for stamping out cheating, has raised questions on why no one has been taken to court over the vice.
“The immediate explanation for these alarming results has been that past examinations were heavily influenced by cheating ... he said.
“Why has no one been arrested or charged in court? Are we simply going to be contented with punishing our children who, in any case, are the victims of this rot?” he asked.