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Look at the bigger picture of KCSE results

Tuesday January 2 2018

exam test papers

Kenya National Examinations Council chairman George Magoha speaks with a candidate at Murang'a High School before the start of a KCSE examination paper on November 6, 2017. PHOTO | JOSEPH KANYI | NATION MEDIA GROUP 


There is a craze for marks, grades and certificates at the basic and middle levels of education, culminating in very high social demand for university degrees. Consequently, one is tempted to describe our education system as an examination system!

No wonder, cheating in national exams had become a norm. It is sad that this had gone on for a very long time with little or no consistent efforts made to curb the vice, which makes some of the outputs of the system suspect.

The teaching and learning processes mostly focus on exam results and not the outcomes — to the extent that majority of learners complete different education cycles without the necessary knowledge, skills and appropriate attitudes, the three ingredients of human capital that drive economies.

Due to the inappropriate investments, Kenya’s economy was fast resembling India of the 1970s, when it was aptly described as having a “Diploma Disease” — too many unemployable degree holders.


I am keenly aware that a few schools and institutions of higher learning with quality instruction and rigorous assessment are producing school leavers and graduates who are globally competitive.

The government’s efforts to streamline the management of exams as a first step to bringing about the much-needed order to the seriously ailing education sector is laudable.

We should commend the bold steps being taken by Education Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang’i, his ministry’s staff and related agencies in consultation with relevant line ministries in stopping exam cheating. Another bold move is the government’s implementation of a key recommendation of a report of a taskforce chaired by Prof Douglas Odhiambo in 2011-2013 to align education to the Constitution and Kenya Vision 2030 by introducing a competency-based curriculum.

Preparations for stopping the cheating started in early 2016, when Dr Matiang’i was moved to the education docket.


Kenyans were used to persistent exam malpractices. With the cheating and shenanigans during and after marking, they  never got to know the true results.

That only about 11 per cent of the 2017 KCSE candidates will join Kenyan universities is a result of proactive measures to streamline the education sector.

In the past, many KCSE candidates scored undeserved As and other attractive grades. The consequences are dire when some of them end up in sensitive careers such as medicine. It is gratifying to know that the 2016 and 2017 candidates got their true scores.

Two, the results confirm research findings, especially the annual learning assessments by Uwezo Kenya, whose reports Are Our Children Learning? have since 2009 demonstrated that students in Kenyan schools are not learning properly. This has gone on for a long time with little done to address it.


Three, rather than agitate for cancellation of the results, stakeholders should call for in-depth investigations into the results, the findings of which would form a basis for future policy frameworks to improve the quality of education.

Four, Dr Matiangi’s bold steps confirm that, with determination, focus and relentless efforts, challenges that are seriously threatening the fabric of the Kenyan society can be surmounted. These include corruption, inefficiency, low productivity and littering.

Let us not lose sight of the bigger picture of the desirable and tortuous journey that has just started to resuscitate the ailing education sector, which has been a serious joke happening as Kenyans watched.

Without shaking up the sector, it will be far from generating knowledge, skills and appropriate attitudes, which are the key outcomes of an effective education.


Dr Riechi (PhD), a policy analyst, is a senior lecturer in economics of education at the University of Nairobi’s School of Education. [email protected]