Confronting KNEC’s Exam Irregularities

Written by on October 25, 2023

At the very core of any nation’s advancement lies its educational system, the bedrock upon which future prosperity is built. In Kenya, substantial reforms have reshaped the educational landscape, yet a recent exposé brings to light lingering specters from the past that continue to haunt the nation’s academic journey.

In the not-so-distant past, the 8-4-4 system grappled with widespread exam malpractice, casting shadows over the credibility and reliability of Kenyan education. In response to this pressing issue, the Uhuru administration took decisive action. Professor Fred Matiang’i, who served as the Cabinet Secretary for Education at the time, emerged as a key figure in the battle against exam irregularities, resulting in a noticeable decrease in the number of students achieving top scores in KCSE. His commendable efforts marked a significant stride in the right direction.

Nonetheless, what raises alarm is the disconcerting upward trajectory in the number of high-achievers in the years that followed this reform. This disquieting pattern continued unabated until 2022 when President Ruto took office, marking a transition that would unveil the enormity of the challenge before us.

The release of examination results during this transition led to an outcry among the public. Many were disheartened by the unusually high number of top achievers, igniting suspicions of foul play. These concerns were not dismissed lightly but rather confirmed by a comprehensive report from the Kenya National Examinations Council (KNEC). 

The KNEC report unearthed a shocking reality: exam cheating is very much alive and kicking. It revealed that the Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DCI) had already handled 68 cases of exam malpractice, with more pending investigations or unresolved cases in court. These cases spanned the use of mobile phones, written materials, and even student impersonation.

The report, however, delves deeper into the root causes of this menace. It exposed how technology, particularly social media apps like Telegram and Signal, facilitated the leakage of exam information as the sources remained untraceable. It highlighted instances where educators noticed identical answers and scripts with similar but incorrect answers, painting a picture of systemic malpractice.

Yet, one of the most disheartening aspects uncovered was the underreporting of such cases. Teachers and examiners often refrain from reporting malpractice due to fear of harassment and intimidation by chief examiners, a dilemma that cannot be overlooked.

The pressure placed on candidates to secure top grades for university admission was a significant driver for cheating. The report suggests a reevaluation of university admission criteria, emphasizing a more holistic approach to formative and summative evaluation.

It also raised concerns about the motivations behind these irregularities, with some principals seeking to boost mean grades as a requirement for promotion by the Teachers Service Commission (TSC). This has led to some schools imposing “motivational fees” to bribe exam officials and facilitate cheating.

To address these challenges, the report recommends an overhaul of teachers’ promotion requirements, refocusing on key parameters such as discipline, teacher development, and co-curricular activities. Additionally, it proposes that principals oversee examinations in schools outside their sub-counties to reduce the chances of malpractice.

The report underscores the need to curb the exploitation of teachers and the lax reporting of malpractice, factors that have contributed significantly to the perpetuation of exam irregularities. These issues strike at the very heart of our education system and demand immediate attention.

The recommendations also urge the examination council to restrict exam officials from overseeing exams at a particular center for more than two consecutive years, an essential step in preserving the sanctity of our examinations. Strengthening penalties for introducing new offenses related to ICT and social media, installing CCTV cameras in exam centers, and relocating exam containers closer to exam centers are critical measures that must be taken to secure our education system’s future.

Alarming as it may be, the report highlights that this cheating is sponsored by adults—teachers, examiners, and parents. It is a stark reminder that safeguarding the integrity of our education system is a collective responsibility, and it is high time we face this issue head-on.

As Kenyans, we must stand together to address the plague of exam irregularities. Our children’s futures depend on it, and the long-term prosperity of our nation is at stake. The integrity of our education system is non-negotiable, and it is our solemn duty to ensure that our children receive the quality education they deserve. We must act swiftly and decisively to protect the sanctity of Kenyan education.

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