The national examinations system is designed to bring out the worst instincts among Kenyans regardless of their age, academic status or station in life. The public education system is designed to encourage the basest instincts among Kenyans. The combination of the two - the education system and the examinations system - are a cocktail that brings tragedy to may families in predictable ways.
Last weeks, hundreds of thousands of teenagers sat for their Kenya Certificate of Primary Education examinations in the presence of armed and uniformed police officers, one more reason to remember that the Government of Kenya really does not understand anything to do with the rights of the child enshrined in the Constitution, the Children Act or the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. It was also reported that dozens of children preparing to sit, or sitting, for the examinations did so immediately after they had given birth, further proof that not only doesn't the Government not understand anything to do with the rights of the child but that it does not actually care to protect the rights of the children of Kenya. I am almost certain that the same will be witnessed in the next three weeks as children undertake the Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education examinations.
If you intend to undertake a degree at any university in Kenya, you must attain a certain academic grade in your basic education. The most recognised entry examination to universities in Kenya is the KCSE, though international equivalents are offered such as the International General Certificate of Secondary Education (IGCSE by many private learning institutions. The KCSE is only offered once a year; if you do not obtain the minimum grade, you must wait a whole year to sit for the exam afresh. There are no equivalency examinations offered by Government: the KCSE is the be all and end all of university-entry examinations.As such, it offers rent-seekers great opportunities to suborn and subvert it, and further the corruption of the soul of the nation.
From the moment a child is enrolled in Standard 1 in a public school, the road leads first to a "national" school and, from the successful few, to a "good" public university (state-owned and state-supported university), of which the premier ones are the University of Nairobi, the Jomo Kenyatta University of Agricultural Technology and the Kenyatta University, though their glory days have receded quite far into the past for anyone to seriously consider them the elite of the elite anymore. (In my opinion, why anyone would willingly subject themselves to the academic ministrations of Moi University or Pwani University defeats logic at a visceral level.) For the few with dollops of donor-dollars (or the local equivalent, tenderpreneurship-fuelled dollars), all roads lead to Strathmore University. But I digress.
If your talent lies in athletics, or the visual or performing arts, a reasonable KCSE grade will allow you to leave secondary school without being scorned and may relieve you, more often than not, of the burden of a university degree. The disciplined services will always hanker after the former while Kenya's budding art scene offers opportunities for the latter. But if your destiny is a white-collar job with a well-paying employer, a university degree is de rigueur and a post-graduate degree inestimably helpful. The numbers of those seeking white-collar success (and the respect it seemingly brings with it) have been increasing by multiples of factors for decades. So have the academic buccaneers hell-bent on turning the screws to the desperate and earning a fast shilling with the conscience of a sicario.
One of the ways I believe we can ameliorate the situation is for Government to offer the KCPE and the KCSE more than one once in a year - three times, in my opinion, would be extremely helpful. This would offer those wishing to re-sit the exams immediate opportunities to improve their last grade. It would also excuse new parents from having to juggle the emotional, psychological and physiological aftermath of childbirth with the emotionally-draining once-and-for-all national exam pressures that few teenagers are well-equipped to handle. Finally, it would finally force Governemnt to re-think its entire approach to the use of examinations to determine the overall level of learning of young persons and, I hope, instead, offer new ways of educating our children and offering them opportunities for their future that are not tied so tightly to a certificate that has been hijacked by a well-connected few.
In my estimation, the last three education ministers (including the incumbent) never understood what it takes to improve an education system. All they obsessed over were overall KCSE and KCPE grades and the the reduction of cheating in national examinations at all costs. The new curriculum being pioneered in the teeth of opposition from well-informed and qualified educators and the now-complete militarisation of national exams continue to remind us that men and women with a police mindset are always ill-suited to the task of the education of the young - they will always see total obedience and good grades as national goals to be pursued to the total exclusion of reason or the welfare of the children their policies affect.
I fear that incumbent education minister and her predecessors have laid the foundation for two generations of lost children who will be more easily pliable in the un-soft hands of a carceral state hell-bent on cheating the people out of their natural endowments. It will all end in the utter ruination of the people.