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Monday, February 25th, 2013

Kenya: The worst, from the best

The results of last year’s Kenya Certificate of Primary Education (KCPE) exams have been called into question by accusations of unethical practices at Kenya’s top primary academies. On February 3, the Daily Nation, reported that “[m]ore than 20 private schools risk closure over dirty tricks they used to obtain top rankings.”

These schools have been accused of sending their weakest students to other test centres to be included in the results of those test centres, not to be associated or included with the results of the schools they actually attend. The practice skews a school’s test results to only its better students – inflating the test results and actual academic abilities of the cheating school’s students.

This happens in many countries around the world. The pressure to attract students – top fee-paying students to the private primary and then ultimately to the top secondary schools in any country can bring out the worst in parent and schools, and always, it is students who suffer in the end. The amazing and sad part, is that the schools so often think they can get away with it.

The Daily Nation cited two Nairobi schools and several others throughout the country who registered student numbers far below their known enrolment levels, with one school having a second group of students, writing at a different test centre, with results more than 25% lower than the students actually registered at the main school.

Official records indicated the deceptive practices of this type have happened in the past and the Education Ministry’s quality assurance department is accused of being aware of these practices but doing nothing to stop them.

These schools often do get away with it, increasing the demand for private schools at the expense of the public system, with private school pupils ending up with a disproportionate share of the places in top national secondary schools. All fine and well if the playing field is level, but it is not so and it is exacerbated by primary school exam trickery, leading to misleading results and private schools finishing higher in national rankings without having merited those placements.

This has prompted the Kenyan government in the past to introduce quotas to ensure places for students coming from public primary schools. This does not root out the malpractice of some private schools which artificially inflates the perceived value and demand for private primary education at the expense of the public system.

On my recent trip to Nairobi, I had the pleasure to visit with the students and counsellors of several private secondary schools, many with junior primary schools ranking near the top of the KCPE results in 2012.

I don’t know which of these schools have been targeted by the investigation into unethical practices, but they are all tarnished by the same brush. The Kenya Private Schools Association (KPSA) has failed to enforce and protect its members in their own better interest.

At the end of the day, as a representative working on behalf of Canadian universities and colleges, this throws into question the extent to which these same schools would go to inflate or manipulate the report cards and results of their secondary school pupils.

Lost in all of this nonsense is the fact that little more than 51 percent of 800,000 plus students across Kenya achieved passing marks, scoring above 250 our of 500. Add in the intense and competitive process that is earning a place in a national secondary schools and more than 50% of students in Kenya could see their educations stalled at the age of 14, though official Kenyan government statistics offer a more optimistic 73% matriculation rate for students to secondary level of study.

Jason Brennan is the Director of Client Services for the Canadian University Application Centre (CUAC).

Kenya National Examinations Council:
Kenya Private Schools Association:
Academies face closure in KCPE rankings scandal, The Daily Nation, February 2, 2013
Makau Mutua, a dean and SUNY Distinguished professor at the State University of New York at Buffalo Law School and chair of Kenya Human Rights Commission, offers a compelling editorial case for the abolishment of Kenya’s terminal national exams:


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