Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Stripped of cheating, our schools are a disaster

The 2016 KCSE results are out and a nation is bewildered. The number of students who scored grade A declined by about 95 percent compared to 2015.  The proportion of students who scored below the C plus grade increased to 84 percent, up from 67 percent in 2015.

Moreover, 66 percent of the students failed. They scored a D plus grade and below. More than 5,000 students scored grade E. What this means is that about 2 out of 3 students completing high school are functionally illiterate. This also means that the individuals do not posses the ability to manage life and employment tasks that demand thinking, reading and numeracy skills at the basic level.

Let us be clear here. Failure at this monumental scale has catastrophic implications for our society. We are talking about 377,000 young men and women. We are talking about the individuals who are likely to be a guard, driver, house help, waiter, gardener, mason etc. Some of them will even end up teaching in our early childhood programs or in the army of police service. And you can bet they will be parents. In 2015, the number was 214,000. So in just two years we have produced about 600,000 functionally illiterate citizens.

What is interesting is that the commentary and conversation about the 2016 KCSE results has been about what many call the dramatic decline in the number of students scoring grade A. This is not surprising. I have said many times here that our schools have been turned into grade factories.

Teaching and learning are widely considered as a diversionary and a waste of time. Teachers and parents are more concerned about the final grade. Hence, drilling and the application of techniques such as cheating are essential tools of trade. By eliminating cheating in the 2016 KCSE, CS Matiangi has laid bare the real problem with our education.

The problem with our education is not the curriculum. The problem is not 8-4-4. The problem is that our children are not learning. Our schools, primary and secondary fail too many. Moreover, our education resources are not equitably distributed. For example, it is unconscionable that about 61 percent of the students who scored grade A (assuming that this is some rough measure of learning) went to schools in Kiambu and Nairobi counties. These two counties have the largest proportion of the best-resourced high schools, also known as national schools.

The 2016 KCSE results present a profound teachable moment for our country. Stripped of cheating, our schools are a total disaster. Clearly, our teachers are not teaching and our children are not learning. This is the crux of the Kenya’s education crisis.


I urge CS Matiangi not to rush into curriculum reform and the introduction of the 2-6-3-3-3. Let us go back to the drawing board. Lets not fiddle with the curriculum yet. What needs urgent attention is teacher quality, school resources, school governance and how to unleash the creative genius in every child.

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