The overhaul of the administration of national examinations in the past three years or so has not only made the tests more credible, it also revealed the depth of the rot into which the system had sunk.
An example was the shocker that was the 2016 Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education (KCSE) exam results. In contrast to previous years where candidates who scored grade A were in the thousands, only 141 students nationwide scored an A while just 88,929 candidates managed the university entry grade of C+ and above. Schools that had ruled the roost as academic giants for decades tumbled from their pedestals while new ones rose in their place.
Though to a lesser extent, the situation of dropping grades and changing fortunes of leading schools was replicated in the Kenya Certificate of Primary Education (KCPE).
While there were claims of deliberate failing of students from some quarters, the more accurate diagnosis of the sudden change in exam results was that cheating loopholes, which had become commonplace in previous years, had successfully been sealed.
If there were questions about the accuracy of the 2016 examination results, last year’s grades served to remove any doubts. There were only 142 As recorded in KCSE, one more than 2016. The number of candidates who attained the university entry grade of C+ was just 70,073.
While there is no doubt there is a new dawn in Kenyan exam regime and the education sector in general, the challenge is to maintain the positive trend. Which is why this week’s assurance by the Education ministry and the Kenya National Examinations Council (Knec) that this year’s exams will be as credible, if not better, than the last two years is encouraging.
As Cabinet secretary Amina Mohamed and Knec chairman George Magoha pointed out, agents of exam cheating are still trying every possible trick to penetrate the anti-cheating fortress that has been erected in the past three years.
Sadly, those seeking a way to break the rules include parents, teachers and school administrations and boards. And they are likely to find willing allies in examination and security officers and other profiteers seeking to cash in on the desperation of parents, teachers and students.
The biggest challenge in delivering credible exams is to ensure these machinations do not succeed. It will take strict enforcement of the rules and regulations to prevent a return to the past where the best grades were available to the highest bidder.