The Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education (KCSE) examination will enter a critical phase today when the candidates begin sitting theory papers.
The exam, which has been going on since the beginning of the year with various projects, tests on foreign languages and practicals, will determine the direction each of the candidates take in higher education.
Like the Kenya Certificate of Primary Education (KCPE) exam, which ended on Thursday, the Form Four exam is a-do-or-die affair because it determines who gets a chance to join the 70 private and public universities in the country.
The competition for university places has, in the past few years, assumed a fresh impetus because, following the overhaul of the Kenya National Examinations Council (Knec) in 2016 to eradicate cheating, only an average of 100,000 candidates qualify for university admission.
This year’s exam has 699,745 registered candidates. It, therefore, means that just a small percentage of these will progress to university if past trends are anything to go by.
While this does not mean that those who fail to qualify for university will be locked out of higher education entirely, it means that higher education, the dream of thousands of learners, is increasingly becoming the preserve of an elite few.
Most high school learners dream of university education because it presents opportunities for highly rewarding jobs, financial stability, enhanced social status and leadership in the corporate and political worlds.
However, those locked out of university have a chance to join the more than 1,000 technical and vocation education training (TVET) institutions for courses such as building technology, mechanical engineering, information technology and food production.
Of late, the government has equipped the colleges with modern teaching and learning equipment.
But it has done a poor job of making them attractive to high school leavers, many of whom consider them second-rate and only meant for losers.
Still, the colleges, like in the rest of the school system, are grappling with an acute shortage of tutors, low enrolment, especially among female students, and poor linkages with the industry.
This reinforces the view that they are run-of-the-mill and much shorn of the prestige attached to universities.
The government has an uphill task of making the colleges attractive by not only equipping and staffing them well, but also conducting a public education campaign about the courses available there and the opportunities they present in the job market.
Good luck to all the candidates!