The performance of the Kenya Certificate of Primary Education (KCPE)examination dropped noticeably this year.
The top candidate scored 440 marks, compared with 453 last year, with the number of those with 400 marks and above falling to 9,770, down from 12,205 in 2018 and 9,846 in 2017.
That shows the days of super-high grades are gone as strict exam rules take root.
And it’s not about candidates scoring super grades but obtaining what they rightly deserve.
An analysis of 2019 results shows that candidates in the 300-400 mark bracket rose to 243,320 from 223,862 last year.
Most learners belong here, a reflection of the true bell curve. Exams should reflect a candidate’s true ability and not embellished reality as in the past.
Teachers and parents should appreciate the true meaning of learning, which is about inculcation of knowledge, skills and attributes.
That requires emphasis on learning outcomes and learners’ ability to internalise and apply knowledge and develop affective senses to enable them to coexist with others in society.
Before 2016, exams were milling plants where candidates were drilled to pass with flying colours without mastering the needed knowledge and skills.
Cartels perfected cheating and those with cash and connections could get grades that never reflected a learner’s abilities.
The 2019 KCPE results also show a positive outcome: the rebound of public primary schools.
Although the top candidate was from a private school, two of the three runners-up, both girls, were from public schools.
Private schools used to dominate the top positions, eclipsing and relegating public schools to the bottom.
The message is clear: given a level playing field, pupils can perform well regardless of their school.
Education should be an equaliser. Social divisions manifest in exceedingly “good performance” by children in private schools perpetuated inequality and its attendant challenges.
Performance improved in four of the six KCPE papers — English, Kiswahili, Kenya Sign Language, social studies and religious education.
In contrast, performance dropped in mathematics and sciences. The latter should worry us.
Maths and sciences are the foundation for engineering and technology — the desired areas of study for an industrialising nation.
It does not augur well when candidates start getting low grades in those subjects at this early stage.
Irregularities have remarkably declined, owing to strict rules for administering the tests.
Only four impersonation cases were recorded and the results cancelled. Strict enforcement of exam administration must continue.
There will always be those trying to short-circuit the system and these have to be spotlighted and sanctioned.
Kenya must operate a cheat-free exam system to restore credibility to our education system.
With the results here, the focus is now on transitioning the children to Form One.
Education Cabinet Secretary George Magoha on Monday restated the government policy of 100 per cent transition.
All those who sat the exam have to proceed to secondary school — a step towards realising universal basic education.
Children should never drop out after Standard Eight, when most of them are still too young and unprepared for independent life. They need secondary education to prepare them for the world.
However, the 100 per cent transition policy comes at a price. What was experienced in secondary schools this year was atrocious.
Schools could not cope with the huge numbers. Since the government is committed to pushing all the Standard Eight leavers to secondary school, it must provide the requisite resources to support the endeavour.
And it must rethink funding for secondary schools. With fees capped at Sh53,000 a year and capitation pegged at Sh22,000 per student annually, which cash is never remitted on time and in full amounts, secondary schools are suffering a serious financial crunch.
Many are in the debt stranglehold. Add to that the perennial biting teacher shortage and the crisis worsens.
The quality of learning is severely compromised, which is why there must be open and candid talks on secondary education funding.
The ideal of sending all learners to secondary school is commendable but it must be supported with proper financing. Otherwise, we will be giving the learners a raw deal.
Overall, the country can now look back with some confidence that sanity has, finally, been restored in national exams.