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Thursday, January 19, 2017

We can learn from the 2016 KSCE results

The 2016 KCSE results have stocked intense public chatter. Parents are incredulous and outraged. Pundits of all stripes are offering enlightened and outlandish commentary. Politicians and teachers’ unions are excoriating the government and Education Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiangi.

According to Prof. Makau Mutua “the 2016 KSCE results are to simply too fishy, not believable”. In Prof Makau’s it is not “possible to clean one aspect of an entirely rotten system without a systemic and publicly-accountable overhaul”. Led by Secretary General William Sossion the Kenya National Union of Teachers wants the 2016 KCSE results cancelled because they are “not a true reflection of the candidates’ performance. Moreover, according to KNUT, the results violate a cardinal law – the normal distribution curve.

Former Prime Minister and opposition leader Raila Odinga wants President Kenyatta to constitute a commission to investigate “the mysteries surrounding” the 2016 KCSE. In Mr. Odinga’s view too few students (141) scored “A” grade and way too many students (33,399) scored “E” grade. Odinga wants “disciplinary action” taken against those behind the mass failure.

The cacophony that has greeted the release of the 2016 KCSE results is not atypical. We are not a particularly introspective or reflective society. We huff and puff. We harangue. We ventilate in ways that are phenomenally fact-free. Public discourse spaces – radio, TV and newspapers – are unconstrained by evidence or sound analysis and are festooned with unbridled conjecture.

The 2016 KCSE results, despite what you think about them, provide us with a rare and invaluable opportunity deep introspection. It saddens me that what we – teachers, parents, students, and policy makers – care about is completing a narrow curriculum, testing and grades. What do we want out of our education and schools? Do we care about learning or a normal distribution of grades? What is the purpose of education?

What can we learn from the 2016 KSCE results?

Our education is broken. Teaching does not happen in our schools anymore. We have reduced education to testing not learning. Our schools have been reduced to grade factories. We are obsessed with grades. With bended knees we pray not for wisdom or learning but grades. We pay for grades. We are upset because 2016 KCSE did not produce enough A’s.

We have drank the Kool-Aid of grades and forgotten the real mission of education – teaching and learning. We have stripped tests and grades of their diagnostic value and disregarded the invaluable support they provide to teaching and learning. Tests and grades have become the sole purpose of education. The role of the teacher is not to stimulate, mentor, provoke or engage the student. The teacher’s brief is to drill and help students get better at taking tests. The mean score in their subject is the measure of the teacher.

Finland’s success in delivering educational excellence is the result of deep understanding of how children learn and a profound respect for teachers. What does 2016 KSCE results teach us about students and teachers?

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