Monday, October 26, 2015

Now is the time to scrap KCPE and KCSE

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Kenya is facing a veritable crisis of integrity. Not one facet of our lives is untouched; the police, the courts, the civil society, the executive and legislative bodies. Even private business, including banks have not been spared.

That the public institutions named above are mired in varying levels of sleaze, some unspeakable is not divine revelation. What in my view is disconcerting is that the decay of morality and integrity has spread to what I think are hallowed places; faith based organizations and the education system.

Fundamental values that define functional and progressive societies are often instilled through public education. These include, honesty, generosity, reciprocity, self-reflection, dignity, honor and patriotism. Through education we learn the value of service to others. Through education we learn to sacrifice to achieve cherished goals. Through education we encounter first hand the association between honest hard work and success.

Assessments, diagnostic, formative and summative, have served the noble purpose of providing both the learner and the teacher with a fairly objective basis for evaluating progress in mastery of requisite knowledge, skills and attitudes. The essential logic of assessments is that in the end, teaching and learning must produce proficiency or mastery. Failure is not a permissible outcome.

Today the noble aims of assessments or examinations have been subverted. Education is now just about examinations. What happens in our schools is not education. Our schools are obsessed with examination grades. Parents demand high grades. Teachers crave high mean grades. Headteachers derive prestige, high enrollment and revenue from high grades.

A high-stakes exam-centric education has turned schools into grade factories. Our school buildings, in my view are mausoleums, containing the remains of education. We have defiled the creative proclivity of our children and murdered the soul of education. Parents and teachers want high grades from students by hook or by crook.

This year we have witnessed leakage and cheating in the KCSE examinations on an unprecedented scale. The government has labored to provide assurances and defend the credibility of examinations. Public confidence in the 2015 KCSE is irredeemable lost. I am sure the students and teachers who gave their all, through sacrifice and honest hard work, feel deceived. 

An exam-centric education system is at the heart of the leakage, cheating and the corruption in public education. Grades are king. Grades are up for sale. There is lots of money to be made. In a society where ethics and morals and integrity are threadbare, we have no trepidation about how we make money. Money to “feed their children” is an offer most public officials find impossible to refuse. For up to Ksh. 2000 for a paper, a lot of public officials could feed their children. And many teachers and parents will have their dancing shoes on when the results are announced early 2016.

I think the rampant and shameless leakage and cheating in the national examinations offers an new impetus for urgent reform in our education. An essential part of the reform must include abolishing high-stakes standardized national examinations; KCPE and KCSE. What we need is a system of seamless transition from primary to secondary schools. A high school education must be a birth right of every Kenyan child, unconstrained by a terminal examination.

Similarly, transition to post-secondary institutions – polytechnic, college or univiersity­­­ – should be determined by an admission process designed by such institutions. Continuous assessment records over four years in secondary school could in my view, provide a more reliable measure of a students ability, compared  to the current standardized test that is riddled with malfeasance. 

I offer some ideas to motivate debate: i) replace current content heavy curriculum with a problem-based approach to learning to encourage critical thinking, analytical reasoning and discovery; ii) assess learning through multiple ways, including school-based formative assessments and student portfolios; iii) promote knowledge application and reflective practice at all levels through service learning.  

I believe now is the time to abandon high-stakes standardized examinations, which are evidently corrupt and questionable. I believe the time is right to broaden the methods of assessing learning to evaluate more comprehensively, the multiple purposes of education.

Calling for the resignation or sacking of KNEC officials or the CS for Education misses the point. We must have the courage to scrap national standardized examinations, re-claim the soul of education and emancipate our children to learn. It is the right thing to do.

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