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Why the Kenyan education system requires an overhaul

The widespread exam leakage should be a reminder to the education stakeholders that the sector is in dire need of reforms.
The widespread exam leakage should be a reminder to the education stakeholders that the sector is in dire need of reforms.

While releasing KCPE results almost a year ago, Education CS Prof. Jacob Kaimenyi announced the abolishing of school and candidate ranking in national exams. This announcement would be the basis of a raging debate on the pros and cons of such a move for a couple of days that followed.

Today, as both form four and 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 bordered on outright obscenity.

However just like I said in that article the move was just but a first step. 

Today as these students complete their final exams, the credibility of our national examinations is sharply coming into question after the nation witnessed massive exam leakage for both primary and secondary schools final exams. Even as the ministry and the examinations council tried to conceal the magnitude of the leakage, papers were still circulating on social media as recent as Monday evening.

Nation media group for instance managed to get their hands on the Mathematics paper sat on Tuesday more than 12 hours before students sat for it.

Treating the symptoms

While it is actually very commendable that the government’s security agencies moved swiftly and  arrested some of the perpetrators, without looking deeply into why such mass leakages occur in the first place and why teachers, parents and those charged with protecting the integrity of these exams actively participate in stealing the exams will be like prescribing panadol to a patient suffering from Malaria. All though the symptoms might be suppressed for a while, it does not completely cure the patient.

While it still remains to be seen if the ministry will keep up to it’s policy of not ranking students and schools, there is still a lot left to be done to ensure that we have a properly designed education system.

Overhauling the university admission process

I am writing this piece sitting at OR Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg waiting for my flight back to Nairobi from South Africa where I have been attending two conferences; the last one of which ends tomorrow at The University of Witwatersrand. This university which is now hosting a investigative journalism conference was a few weeks ago the center of student action demanding for reduction of tuition fees.

While Kenyan university education is fairly affordable for government sponsored students, admission to the university continue to be based on bed capacities. According to the Kenya Universities and Colleges Placement Service (KUCPS), students who score C+ and above deserve to be admitted for undergraduate degree programs at public universities.

That is however usually in theory rather than practice. What happens is that because of the limited places available the cutoff points usually rise to B+ with special considerations to marginalized groups.

Coupled with competition for admission to lucrative courses like medicine and law, students (aided by their teachers and parents) will go to unhealthy lengths – which includes cheating: to secure admission.

Expanding the capacities of universities to take more students will reduce the pressure on students  to get A and B grades – as much as that would also be very desirable.

Moving away from the first and second steps of overhauling our education system, there needs to be a strengthening of middle level colleges to offer technical training for students.

In an attempt to increase the capacities of universities to hold more students, the government embarked on an ineffective approach that involved transforming technical colleges in the country which had for years produced some of the best skilled workforce into university colleges.

This move not only robbed the workforce of middle level technicians but also reduced chances of bright students who score between B (plain) and C+ (plus) getting opportunities for tertiary institutions. This in effect means every student sitting for their secondary education will be fighting for the KUCPS admission places in public universities.

The situation is not any different for KCPE candidates

The suggestion to have students continue straight from class eight into form one without a national exam will ensure a100% absorption and eliminate exam cheating at this level.

So it will not be surprising that students who were scoring Cs and Ds will next year get mean scores of As and be admitted to medical schools and law schools across the country where the reality of our failed education system will check in as these students will not be able to cope. That is however not the tragedy – the real problem is that the students who really deserve to be the next crop of doctors will have been left out – if that is not obscene I don’t know what is.

This is definitely not the silver bullet that will solve Kenya’s education sector process but ultimately we have to start somewhere if we are to achieve our goal of streamlining the sector. Sorting out the exam and related issues amounts to that “first step” in the direction of creating an education system that can not only compare to the very best of the world but also provides the job market with people who have the right skills.

The widespread exam leakage should be a reminder to the education stakeholders that the sector is in dire need of reforms. That the policies that were formulated more than four decades ago can no longer cope with the demands of the modern environment.

Follow me on Twitter @IamOminde



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