The exam season often milks students of their self-worth because of absurdly high expectations and insurmountable pressure from their parents and schools to attain the elusive perfect grades.
Little wonder then that cheating is rife during this season. The Kenya National Examinations Council (Knec) has once again made a grand show of identifying cheating hotspots.
This year, places like Bungoma, Kisumu, Kisii, Homa Bay and Migori made the list.
The Knec has also adopted stringent security measures to curb the vice, and billions of shillings have gone into the exercise.
The tough-talking Education Cabinet Secretary George Magoha has promised us that “no examination will be seen before the morning it is supposed to be seen”. A warm toast to relevant ministries for these relentless efforts.
But declaring war on cheating has not had perfect results in curbing it in the past. In 2018, the results of 3,427 Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education (KCSE) examination candidates in 44 schools were cancelled for irregularities.
In short, no amount of efforts put in place is guaranteed to completely wipe out cheating. The real puzzle is why the rain keeps beating the hallowed national examinations.
It could be that the Ministry of Education and Knec are busy fighting the symptoms of the problem while the root causes remain deeply entrenched in our culture.
Picture a candidate who makes a conscious decision to cheat in his KCPE or KCSE exams. Is he really to blame for daring to do all that is in his power to fit into societal expectations?
Because the truth is that cheating is just a symptom of a society that worships good grades as a measure of success in life; even with the certain knowledge that given the current trends, being educated is one of the surest ways to poverty.
In fact, one stands a higher chance of being appointed to chair institutions like the National Employment Authority (NEA) if they cannot construct a comprehensible English sentence. Such are the realities of today.
The joy of learning for any child who steps into a Kenyan classroom is often sucked dry by academic goals of the school (and cheerleading parents) that are carefully crafted and housed in hackneyed phrases - like "Forward Ever, Backward Never", "Education is the Key to Life", or "Pressing Towards the Mark" - and painted on school gates.
Their lives in school are marred by copious amounts of homework and endless tuition classes. This is where the cheating problem begins, and it follows them all the way to KCPE, KCSE and university examinations (where the mwakenya cheating syndrome reigns supreme).
Throughout their education, failure in exams will be flaunted as a fatal, irreversible and catastrophic thing.
Failing in exams will become such as great source of physical and emotional pain that they will start crafting ways to alleviate this anguish.
Translation? They will start cheating in exams long before they sit for KCPE or KCSE.
Come exam season, the candidates’ lives will be inundated with shiny, colourful, musical success cards that will add pressure on them, with messages about being the best and “number one”.
Prayers will be held by the schools with cooperation from parents. Now, the ministry of Education has labelled such prayer events unnecessary and banned them this year.
The candidates need all the spiritual nourishment they can get because the exams will leave some of their spirits very, very broken.
Cheating will remain an endemic problem during national exams as long as pressure to score the elusive ‘A’ grade remains, so let us ease the pressure on candidates just a little.
For parents, especially those whose children are KCPE and KCSE candidates this year, let us save some of the tight embraces reserved for ‘A’ students for the ‘B’, ‘C’, ‘D’ and ‘E’ students as well.
The ‘Y’ students, too, need to be comforted, not condemned. After all, all the candidates are victims of impossibly high academic standards.
The writer is the editor, ‘Living Magazine’; [email protected]