Examination cheating is a universal societal challenge. What makes it different in Kenya is the drama with which we deal handle it.
Unwittingly, this drama hurts the brand image of the country.
Several studies have been conducted to determine the motives of cheating, but none has clearly stated what policy makers need to do.
A closer look at some of the findings may help us understand why this phenomenon is so widespread that it threatens to hurt the chances of good students seeking to study abroad as well as job opportunities for Kenyans seeking to work for international organisations.
Some of the studies suggest that key among the motives include the strong link between exam performance and employment, systemic corruption in society leading to a situation where individuals cheat because others are cheating, and the interplay between self-efficacy, peer influence and cheating.
How do we deal with these issues and retain the country’s image as a hotspot for innovation?
First, linking examination performance and employment is a bad idea in a country where unemployment of youth is in excess of 40 percent.
In such situations, good grades mean life and death. Although experts in recruitment know that the best potential employee is one with skills, knowledge and competence, they default to high grades because we have politicised employment in this country.
In our local political language, the most qualified person is one with the best papers, and it does not matter whether they have the skills or competence to do the job or not.
It is perhaps why the country’s productivity indices have remained low, as is evidenced by the performance of publicly listed government-owned enterprises where appointments are influenced by politicians who wave papers with good grades for their favourite candidates.
Second, in the fight against systemic corruption, the President directed that from July 1, 2018 the government tendering process would be public.
In technical language, he meant open contracting, a method of procurement developed by the World Wide Web Foundation ''to transform the way governments publish contracting data, and will shine a light on how trillions of dollars of public money are spent, helping to fight corruption, improve service delivery and enhance market efficiency. Countries at the forefront of this process include Canada, Costa Rica, Colombia, Mexico and Paraguay.''
Kenya simply needs to join the countries that have embraced this novel idea of fighting corruption.
Since cheating in schools entails a network of contractors, teachers, parents and education officials, a new system will begin to reveal the identities of contractors who, almost in all cases, remain anonymous.
Open contracting alone will bring transparency and begin the journey of building credible systems that positively contribute to the country’s image.
In my view, we have not exhausted policy interventions that can effectively deal with cheating.
Since an examination is an assessment intended to measure a test-taker's knowledge, skill and aptitude, we perhaps need an examination policy in which any single paper could test a concept in different questions.
The idea of having similar questions countrywide is a recipe for cheating. For example, if you need to test the concept of multiplication, there is no need of testing three multiplied by two throughout the nation. There is also no need of having exam seasons.
Further, there is need to spread exams throughout the year such that a student takes exams when they are ready. Test questions can be randomised online in special examination centres.
Some of the universities that I attended as a student had an academic honour code – an ethical doctrine adhered to as part of individual honourable behaviour within the institution.
This idea depended on the notion that everyone on campus can be trusted to act honourably. There were deterrent measures to ensure that everybody behaved within the code.
Those who violated the honour code were subjected to various sanctions that included expulsion. It worked well in stopping cheating on campus.
It is a cultural practice that we need to embrace right from our homes to schools in order to build a better future for our country.
Every parent wants their children to perform well but they also must understand that good grades have no correlation with success in life.
In an article, ''Don’t measure success by just good grades,'' published in The Star Online in Malaysia, Azizi Ahmad supports his case with some research findings:
A study showed that 41 percent of the self-made millionaires were 'B' students, 29 percent were 'C' students and 21 percent were 'A' students. The study also stated that 59 percent of the millionaires came from middle-class families while the rest were not from under-privileged backgrounds. More successful people have not always been A students. Who or where you are from in terms of one's background or status does not determine who you will be.
Nothing beats hard work at whatever state you are in. Let us stop cheating and the dramatic way with which we fight it, and save our country’s image for greater prosperity.
The writer is an associate professor at the University of Nairobi’s School of Business. Twitter: @bantigito