The revelation that the 2015 Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education (KCSE) examination was massively rigged casts a dark cloud over the credibility of Kenya’s educational system.
Going by the old cliché, ‘every cloud has a silver lining,’ even this dark cloud portends something good.
This is the opportune moment for Kenya to roll out comprehensive reforms in the sector by introducing college entry exams to militate against cheating in exams.
The justification arises from the confirmation that some deserving students who did not cheat will lose the opportunity to pursue their dreams.
The ministry, therefore, must go beyond the disbandment of the Kenyan National Examinations Council (Knec) board and give every student the opportunity to fairly compete for the limited spaces at university.
Like many other countries, an entry exam to university especially for competitive courses would help restore the credibility of the country’s education system.
College entry exams such as BioMedical Admissions Test (BMAT), UK Clinical Aptitude Test (UKCAT) and the National Law Aptitude Test (LNAT) offered in the United Kingdom would level the ground for all students.
The United States also uses Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) and American College Test (ACT) exams for college entry. Universities should even go further and introduce interviews for prospective students.
This process can help weed out cheats while at the same time identify students who genuinely have a passion for the respective professions they have chosen and ultimately help the government make informed investment in education.
The fact that it is the teachers themselves who set the exam, administer it and mark it, is in itself a huge conflict of interest that undermines the credibility of the exams.
There is need to introduce comprehensive reforms including outsourcing of the Knec activities to independent organisations. To deflate the existing competitive environment, test centres should be created to offer exams every quarter.
Students can then spread their exams throughout the year and only apply to join the university when they have attained the necessary course work.
There is no justifiable reason for processing students like in a factory line. Kenyans have unfairly blamed technology as the source of cheating, but this is just an excuse.
In fact, technology will eventually be the saviour of the country’s credibility in exams.
It is possible to administer exams through randomly generated questions and make cheating irrelevant.
To achieve this, the country must fast track connectivity to all schools and, more importantly, to examination centres that have no relationship with the schools.
Several international examinations administered here in Kenya leverage technology to continuously administer examinations and the exams are never leaked.
It remains to be seen what position different politicians will take when the truth eventually comes out.
The country’s Achilles heel is the politicisation of education. With so much politics, it is likely that whistle blowers may turn out to be the victims standing alone in the wilderness. The minister needs public support to take the reforms through to their logical conclusion.
The changes made to the Knec board are not far reaching enough, as they should have removed government nominees who were part of the old board.
There still remain difficult decisions to be made especially on who should bear the responsibility for gross violation of public trust. It is imperative that the whole truth is told no matter how painful it is.
The 5,000 students who allegedly cheated in the exam are pawns in a game of untouchable potentates.
It is not enough to crucify just a few when, clearly, some top schools benefited from the leak but owing to the fear of unknown consequences, neither the ministry nor parliament is willing to disclose the extent of the leak.
Statistically if only three per cent of the candidates cheated then the ministry is using a hammer to kill a fly.
This thesis does not hold considering that there were schools with highly skewed results. Another statistical impossibility.
The President has declared war on corruption and it doesn’t help washing some of the dirt under the carpet when it is opportune to deal with the vice in the education sector once and for all.
The government would win a lot of public trust if there was full disclosure of what happened in last year’s KCSE exams. Its proposal for comprehensive reforms to correct the mistakes already done would then be widely supported.
The writer is an associate professor at University of Nairobi’s School of Business.