Thursday, October 30, 2014

Saving our national soul.

It is a national pass-time, almost a sport. Every end of year we all freak out when our sprogs sit for national certificate exams. Because every mum wants her son to go to Alliance or her daughter to go to Kenya High, the degree of freaking out is usually out of all known proportion when the exam is the Kenya Certificate of Primary Education. But it is taken several extreme degrees higher when a son or a daughter is confronting the Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education; parents, teachers, pastors, friends, headmasters...everybody freaks the hell out and do things that really reveal just what an individual is willing to do to "succeed" in Kenya.

Exam cheating is the national pass-time these days. I think it is time we decriminalised it. We are spending too much time, too much money and too many man hours trying to keep candidates from circumventing our clearly inadequate anti-cheating controls. The idiocy of extreme penalties for exam cheaters who get caught will eventually be made manifest. Getting caught cheating should only warrant the cancellation of ones results, not a supid five-year ban from sitting the exams again.

I think it is time we "leaked" the details of each year's exam at the beginning of the year. Given the mechanised manner in which syllabi are gotten through in the year, we all know that the last three academic months of the year are devoted to cramming as many potential answers as a seventeen-year old can retain without losing their mind. Why not ease the pressure; give them the test questions at the begging of the year without indicating whether the answers will be in multiple-choice form or in essay form and let them "read for the exam" in relative mental peace.

In one fell swoop we will have killed the market for corrupting Kenya National Examinations' Council officials, County Education Office officials, and the dozens of officials and middlemen between the national examiner and the candidate. Parents will no longer have to sell the family goat to finance a harebrained exam-paper-buying scheme. Candidates will not have to come up with elaborate, multi-player plots to sneak answers into the examinations hall. And invigilators will not have to worry about watching their backs because they might have offended quick-tempered, nervous and hormonal teens when they clamped down a bit to strongly on attempted cheating.

Since we already accept that our system is out to weed out the last ounce of free-thought among the hormonally-driven thirteen to eighteen demographic, there is no reason not to guarantee that all free thought is extinguished. This is achieved by allowing them to get the test in advance. They can work with whichever witchdoctors and consultants they fancy, but by the time they are siting for the exam, they must have memorised every possible solution to every question.

Before you freak out and call be a flame-throwing anarchist out to drive a nail in Kenya's creativity coffin, just because some kid managed to cram his or her way to an A in the KCSE does not mean that they will be automatically admitted to the university of their choice to pursue the course of their heart's desire. No, far from it. All they have done is to prove that they are very capable robots. For them to prove that they can read and think, they will need to sit for an entrance exam whose questions will be kept secret on the pain of academic excommunication for anyone who attempts to sabotage the system. The universities will manage the entrance exam for each course they offer. Only those who meet the strict qualifications set by the university will be admitted. The rest can try their luck in "tertiary colleges", polytechnics, the National Youth Service, the Mungiki Welfare Association or any of the three thousand five hundred "SACCOs" operating in the transport sector with wild abandon.

The reason I think they should be allowed to know the questions in advance is that the skills they demonstrate in their efforts to cheat are usually scaled up when they join the formal and informal workforce. Many of them become managers, elected representatives, preachers, teachers, doctors or lawyers and, having gotten used to lying and cheating their way to "success", they see it as a virtue to inculcate those same tendencies in their children and those under their care. They corrode the moral fabric of society even before most of them learn how to shave. Take away the incentive to cheat and save the soul of the nation. I beg you!

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