EDITORIAL: High failure rate in KCSE exams calls for quick action

Education secretary Fred Matiang’i. FILE PHOTO | NMG
Education secretary Fred Matiang’i. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

If the 2017 Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education (KCSE) results have confirmed the Education ministry’s determination to eliminate cheating in national exams, they have equally uncovered a systematic proclivity towards mass production of failed students.

For there can be no way to explain CS Fred Matiangi and chair of exams council George Magoha’s apparent failure to realise that there is something grossly wrong with a system in which more than 85 per cent of candidates are failing to attain university entry grades.

In the 2017 exams, for instance, only 70,073 or 11.5 per cent of the 611,952 students, who sat the KCSE exams obtained at least C+, the minimum university entry grade.

Worse still, 57.3 per cent of the students who registered for the exams will not even qualify for diploma courses after 135,550 obtained grade D (plain), 179,381 scored D- (minus) while 35,586 were awarded grade E (total failure).

In a country that understands the central role that education plays in shaping the future of young people, their families and nations at large, this type of mass failure would cause heads to roll at the Department of Education.

Well in Kenya, those presiding over this broken system are patting themselves on the back and are even getting some cheers!!

Nobody at Jogoo House appears to see mass failure as an anomaly that requires urgent fixing – for a good education system is one in which no child is left behind.

In our case, and at this point in time, the mass failures make nonsense of the government’s determination to increase transition rates through the promise of free secondary education.

Children cannot be taken to secondary school only to be told at the end of four years that it has all amounted to naught.

Most importantly, Dr  Matiang’i must be persuaded to depart from the delusion that releasing exam results early does make some sense of achievement in the management of education.

While we support the tough actions that the ministry has put in place to curb cheating in schools, such measures must only aim at safeguarding the future of the greatest number of students, not vice versa.

Dr Matiang’i had better start taking a holistic approach to education, away from obsession with exams and midwife the coming in of a system that lays emphasis on giving learners life-long skills.

Unfortunately, that is not what one can glean from the 2017 KCSE results. Whereas only one school would previously post 142 As, it now takes a whole nation to gather that number of top grades.

It was shocking enough last year when only 88,932 candidates qualified to join universities. That has hit a new low of 18,000 below last year’s number despite growth in student population – a signal of major regression that does not seem to bother Dr Matiangi.

Insiders have pointed out one anomaly. That just like it was with last year’s exams, the 2017 results were not looked at by senior examiners and that no moderation of results took place.

That means raw results were released in apparent rush whose objective only the ministry can explain. As it were Jogoo House and the Kenya National Examinations Council appear determined to force their own narrative down our throats.

It wants us to believe that it is a mark of achievement when only a few students pass exams and hundreds of thousands fail.

Ordinarily, a good outcome of exams produces a normal distribution curve, one which peaks in the middle to indicate that majority scored average grades with top grades nearly equalling those with the lowest grades.

For the 2017 results, the number of absolute failures is disproportionately high yet the post-school institutions have expanded their facilities in the last 10 years.

Or let’s assume for a moment that the results published in 2016 and 2017 are scientifically correct, and that the mass failure is real. How come the teachers and other education stakeholders failed to anticipate it?

Isn’t it a failure of the entire system if it keeps students in schools for 12 years only for them to finish with nothing?