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Why abolishing ranking is the first step in the right direction

“The decision to abolish ranking of schools is the first step towards returning sanity in the education sector”

The Cabinet Secretary for Education Prof. Jacob Kamimenyi yesterday made a major announcement while releasing the 2014 KCPE results – to abolish school and candidate ranking in National examinations. An announcement that would be the basis of a debate that would last the entire day and into the night on various platforms.

Who benefits from ranking?

The proponents of the ranking system argue that it would reduce the quality education in our schools as teachers, parents and to a large extent students would lack motivation to work hard. Nothing could be father from the truth, the CS might have abolished ranking but he did not abolish grading or even internal ranking in schools or any other method of measuring learning.

Most developed countries do not rank their students based on their performance in national exams but they still achieve very high quality education standards. To think the same is not achievable here would be insulting to the Kenyan teacher, parent and student.

 Even without ranking teachers and parents are able to know weak students and assist them to perform better. We don’t have ranking in Universities and Colleges but focused students still perform well, why do we want to think that the same is not possible in Primary and Secondary schools?

 The biggest losers with this new development are most definitely private schools who were previously the biggest beneficiaries of the schools ranking system which provided them with a free marketing platform funded by the tax payer.

Bringing back sanity

Like one of my followers put it on twitter, “ the decision to abolish ranking of schools is the first step towards returning sanity in the education sector.”

The sector had indeed become insane due to what the CS called “unwarranted competition.” I felt extremely disheartened every morning while I was on my way to work at 5 am and I meet primary school kids on the road going to school for morning tuition.Having 12 year old kids waking up at 4 am and sleeping late just because teachers are drilling them to pass exams – if that is not immoral then I don’t know what is.

 I am not surprised in any way at the quality of form four graduates we churn out of our secondary schools to the world each year – most of them cannot even cope with university life for those who get there.

In the pursuit of high mean scores schools have neglected their other roles of molding these students into young adults by focusing solely on academics.

I agree with a blogger friend of mine Gathara who says “like laptops, eliminating ranking may have its place but it should be seen in the context of sector-wide reforms.”

What I however do not agree with him on is that abolishing ranking was not a priority. I would not lie to you now that I know what should come first and what should come last but I for sure understand that most of the reforms we need in the education sector which include: staffing, equipping and providing relevant curriculum are all dependent on availability of resources. Abolishing ranking and enjoying the benefits that come with that only required a policy change. That in turn means that the sector now has one less problem to deal with and education managers can now ensure that the rest of their mandate are also adhered to.

Commercialization of education

Education in Kenya had been extremely commercialized even in public schools, that is why Schools like Alliance, Nairobi School, Lenana School, Statehouse Girls and the rest could charge beyond what is approved by the government in the name of drilling the children to achieve higher mean scores. While this may be good to parents who can afford because they get value for that extra shilling it locks out children from poor backgrounds who also qualify to attend these schools but cannot afford the inflated school fees and whatever extra they are usually required to pay for holiday tuition which despite having been banned years ago is still being practiced. These kids deserve a chance to go to these schools which are equipped using taxpayer money.

KTN’s Managing Editor Joe Ageyo sums up my argument with this tweet: “Anything that helps de-commercialize education is good for the children and for the country.”

Sector-wide reforms

The sector indeed still needs a lot of reforms, curtailing commercialization is just one step but the CS must now move to ensure that the kid in Turkana and the kid in Nairobi have the same quality of education. After all inequality is one of the reasons why we felt that ranking was unfair but abolishing of the same should not be the only solution. The government must move to ensure that all students in this country are faced with the same variables – that is what will ultimately improve the quality of education.

                                                      Follow me on Twitter @IamOminde



  • Martin Ngotho Reply

    January 27, 2015 at 4:34 pm

    Ranking schools through academic attainment can have a negative impact on society. Although competition is natural to all creatures (including human beings), there is a time and place for encouraging it.

    Ranking schools by education attainment puts unnecessary pressure on young children, making some who would normally exceed perform worse than their peers. It also ignores other important factors in a child's life such as happiness and good health, which if not nurtured, can affect a person well into adulthood.

    Ranking schools by education attainment can also encourage cheating and corruption. A school is likely to encourage its pupils to cheat so that it can be ranked higher in the tables than its neighbours. It can also encourage corporal punishment for its lower attainers. In extreme cases, schools can bribe their way to the top of the league tables.

    Education school rankings can be a bad thing simply because you are not comparing like for like. Two schools in the same town, but with very different cohorts should not be compared. You cannot compare education attainment of pupils with special needs with those that do not have special needs. Similarly, you cannot compare the education attainment of a pupil from a disadvantaged background with that of a pupil from an affluent background. They have different resources available to them, including quality of teacher. A disadvantaged pupil is also likely to study on an empty stomach, which inevitably affects their concentration in class. A pupil from a privileged background is likely to have had their porridge before going to class.

    On possible solution is to publish a list of school performance alphabetically. You can do it by region, or at national level. It doesn't matter. By publishing it in alphabetical order, you give parents the chance to look at their children's school's performance without the humiliation discrimination of ranking.

  • Daniel Ominde Reply

    January 27, 2015 at 6:10 pm

    Quite an explanation here. I agree with your sentiments.

  • Martin Ngotho Reply

    January 27, 2015 at 11:08 pm

    Thanks Daniel. It's vitally important to put the children first as they are the future.

  • Why the Kenyan education system requires an overhaul | OMINDE'S WORLD Reply

    November 11, 2015 at 8:33 pm

    […] class eight students sit for their national exams, I still believe in my stand that the move was a first step in the right direction. The ills that schools were engaging in to score good mean grades were not only unethical but […]


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