This article first appeared in my weekly column with the Business Daily on January 8, 2017
Cabinet Secretary for Education, Matiang’i, stunned the country when he released the results of the Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education (KCSE) late last year. Only 141 As were earned compared to over 2500 in 2015. The pattern was similar in all other grade classes, with far fewer students earning the top grades when compared to previous years. Some schools that were top performers barely managed to garner top grades this year. While this has surely aggravated some schools, students, teachers and even parents, the importance of how Matiang’i supervised and structured the entire KCSE exam process should not be underestimated.
Firstly, it seems clear the rot of dishonesty and cheating had overtaken the education system with ominous results; corruption had become a way of life in Kenya’s education system. When schools, teachers, students and parents all collude to cheat their way into earning top marks, the very core of the future of the country is compromised as cheating becomes an accepted way of life. Students witness adults devising schemes to cheat as normal. How then can a country expect to create a generation of honest, hardworking Kenyans when the young see such profound deviousness embodied by their elders? If anything, the dubious manner in which previous exams were conducted cemented the culture and essential acceptance of cheating and corruption in the minds of future generations.
Secondly, the culture of cheating was crippling the country; students were no longer interested in learning. An analyst made the point that the culture of cheating had eroded the importance of learning in the minds of millions of students. Many students saw no need to pay attention in class as they were assured of being leaked the final exam papers just before the exams. Consequently some saw no need to focus and absorb what they were being taught as they were assured of As regardless of whether they understood the content or not. This attitude then would follow students into further education, where again schemes were created to earn the top marks without having learnt the content required for the course. This has had serious consequences: firstly, transcripts presented to potential employers mispresented the students’ competencies and strengths. As a result, employers had no tool with which they could select the best and position them in relevant positions. Secondly, cheating meant many students entered the workforce as essentially incompetent as they had not truly learned the full body of knowledge expected of them. As a result, employers quickly realised that top marks account for nothing and thus had to spend millions more training job entrants in basic skills. This is a waste of millions of shillings that could have been better spent had honesty been the norm. Additionally, those who cheat their way through school bring with them a culture of eating where they have not planted, of reaping where they did not sow and of viewing corruption as a legitimate tool to use in professional life.
Thirdly, cheating has a detrimental effects on economic development. If the country has a distorted means of assessing student performance, how can the country assess where the country stands in terms of the literacy and educational competence of the youth? How can the country determine subject and geographical areas that need special attention and strategy? Cheating in the education sectors makes it impossible for the country to develop relevant strategy to improve the education sector and better position the sector to be a catalyst for the development of the country.
Matiang’i and his team should be applauded for having the grit to take on the culture of corruption that had riddled the country’s education system. The next step should now be a thorough assessment of curricula to ensure that education at all levels equips the youth with relevant skills to earn a fruitful living and push the country’s development forward.
Anzetse Were is a development economist; firstname.lastname@example.org