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KCSE markers’ strike sheds light on poor working conditions

Saturday December 07 2019
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A pack of KCSE exam papers. PHOTO | FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP.

By OUMA WANZALA
By FAITH NYAMAI

Protests by teachers marking this year’s Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education (KCSE) examinations have exposed the poor working conditions they endure in order to deliver on their contracts.

The tough conditions range from poor pay, accommodation and food, long working hours and round-the-clock monitoring by detectives drawn from various security agencies.

POOR CONDITIONS

The examiners are also banned from using mobile phones in the marking halls and can only access them late in the night or at dawn. These working conditions have led experienced examiners to shun the exercise.

Unlike in the past when the examiners used to mark the examinations over at least one month, the time has been reduced to between 16 and 18 days over the past four years in an attempt to curb cheating.

“We are determined to conclude marking of the examinations on time so that we can release the results before Christmas,” said Education Cabinet Secretary George Magoha during the ceremony concluding the KCSE examinations at Kenya High School.

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Examiners in the 20 marking centres have been complaining over poor working conditions but it is the two-day protest by markers based at Machakos Girls High School that brought the poor conditions to light. The examiners cited harassment and intimidation by the centre manager while demanding an increase in the amount paid for marking the Business Studies paper from Sh46 to Sh68.

BEAT DEADLINE

After drawn-out negotiations with the Kenya National Examinations Council (Knec), the amount was raised to Sh52 per script. According to Knec, Sh52 is paid per script for Christian religious Education (CRE), same as History while a Chemistry script fetches Sh46. English and Kiswahili scripts fetch an examiner Sh60.

Depending on an individual examiner’s speed, one can mark between 1,000 and 1,500 scripts during the entire exercise.

“When you arrive at an examination centre, you are given a roll of tissue paper, a blanket and a pair of sheets. The accommodation is in the dormitories used by students,” explained an examiner who sought anonymity for fear of victimisation by Knec.

The examiners are required to wake up as early as 5am and retire to bed at 11pm, with a one-hour lunch break. They are also required to work during public holidays to ensure they beat the Knec deadline of completing the exercise within 18 days.

LITTLE PAY

“Guys are overworking in order to take home something good and this may compromise the quality of the results,” said another examiner.

On Thursday and Friday, marking of the Physics practicals was stopped at Upper Hill Secondary School marking centre as teachers demanded better pay. The go-slow forced Knec to hold a series of crisis meetings to calm the situation. Kenya Union of Post Primary Education Teachers (Kuppet) Deputy Secretary General Moses Nthurima said the teachers were being subjected to long hours of marking and receiving very little pay. He added that teachers in most of the marking centres were on a go-slow because of poor pay and threats from their seniors and the examination council.

“Teachers have not marked the exam on Thursday and Friday, and as a union we want Knec to improve their pay,” he said.

The teachers were being paid Sh46 like their Business Studies counterparts.

SACRIFICING

“We have already talked with teachers. We are addressing their issues to ensure that marking goes on successfully and credible results will be released,” Knec acting chief executive officer Mercy Karogo said after the go-slow went public.

During the ceremony to release this year’s Kenya Certificate of Primary Education (KCPE) examination results, Teachers Service Commission (TSC) chief executive Nancy Macharia acknowledged that teachers involved in the administration of the examinations were sacrificing a lot.

She said during the examination, thousands of teachers were engaged as centre managers, supervisors, invigilators and examiners.

“These assignments required of them to rise up as early as 5am daily. As a matter of fact, we wouldn’t be here were it not for the teachers’ work. The TSC, therefore, wishes to celebrate these teachers for their sacrifice,” said Ms Macharia.

CONVEYOR BELT

A total of 26,597 teachers are involved in marking the KCSE examinations. In the exercise, seven examiners and a team leader form a pool. For every 10 scripts they mark, the team leader goes through two, picked randomly, to check if they have been marked well. The margin of error allowed is plus or minus two, anything outside of this and the examiner is forced to remark the script.

Team leaders work under assistant examiners who also go through the answer sheets. Scripts with errors are put together and a council member checks the corrections before marks are recorded. Prof Magoha is on record stating that Knec is employing a “conveyor-belt system” to ensure that no single examiner marks an entire script by themselves. It means one examiner marks, say two questions, and passes the script to the next examiner.

Kuppet and Knec are planning a crisis meeting on Tuesday to address the teachers’ grievances. Kuppet has also asked Prof Magoha to intervene.

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