I sat for my O’Levels exams in 2009 at St Mary’s High School, Ukwala. This was after my unfortunate expulsion from the provincial school of my choice, Makueni Boys’ High School back in 2007 following a student’s unrest that sought to oust the then Principal Mr. Nzioka and his Deputy(Teenage issues, I know better now). At 406 marks, I could not join a National School without greasing someone’s palms, therefore I settled for what I got. Deep down, I believed that I had done my level best to be at the level I was, yet, the Education System kept reminding me that I had not done enough. That there was still more I could do to strengthen my final grade! Should I repeat the class? Believe you me, that option was not far away from my mind! The fact that I had not qualified to join National High School haunted me for as long as I could remember.
In December last year, the KCPE results were released and the same trend repeated itself. The release of the National Examinations result consequently portrayed as a matter of life and death. I mean why else would the Cabinet Secretary for Education always be the one to have the honors? Has this become a necessary national ritual that the country cannot choose to avoid? Another important question I would seek to ask is whether this event is really about the students themselves? Examinations have not only become the most important thing about schooling life, it has also become the only thing! It is no longer about testing curricular expectations, it has become more about competing with other similar schools. It has become about setting records and putting the school on the national map. It has become about the teachers and the school boards. The students are only puppets, and many lose out.
When the Senior Principal of Alliance High School addressed his students after the release of the KCSE examinations results, he said …We managed to get 166 A’s, 77 A-, 72B+ na hizo zingine zenye sitataja (and others I won’t mention) yet as simple as this statement can be, coming from the topmost school in the national rankings is devastating to other small schools. We have had students scoring D’s and still making it in life. However, success in life, especially in our country Kenya has continuously been pegged on academic excellence. Can’t we have national examinations without necessarily ranking our students on national media and consequently stereotyping the majority of whom score less than the University cut off point? The hizo zingine zenye sitataja group also have their story to tell. We could instead rank counties and promote the other growing schools in raising their academic standards. As things stand today, the disparity in resources for our various institutions of learning continue to harbor the quest for quality education.
Another point of argument is the increased cases of examinations irregularity. The great risks that various stakeholders are willing to take to excel in their final examinations. This has seen the arrest and prosecution of teachers; with head teachers and principals included, students and even parents. Officials in the National examinations body have also from time to time been involved in exam leakages. A further indication of just how deep the system may be infiltrated. A good number of the National Schools’ teachers are involved in setting the examinations and consequently they share some of this information with their students whether directly or indirectly. Indirectly may be through stressing on particular topics that the examination is set to cover. I can personally testify to having seen an examination material that as apparently sat for by students as a Post Mock examinations only to have similar questions in the KCSE! This is happening for the schools with the means, obviously indicating that the playfield is never level.
We may argue that it matters not where you go to school; yet we keep on grading ourselves as if it is the only thing that matters! Whatever brackets we find ourselves in, motivation is what should keep us going.