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February 19, 2019

Ranking of schools a sign of lack of unimaginative leadership

St Kevin Hill School Nyali former students check their KCPE results on phone at the school in Mombasa yesterday. Education CS Jacob Kaimenyi released the results yesterday with mixed reactions from education stakeholders over governments move to abolish ranking of students and schools in national examinations. Photo Andrew Kasuku
St Kevin Hill School Nyali former students check their KCPE results on phone at the school in Mombasa yesterday. Education CS Jacob Kaimenyi released the results yesterday with mixed reactions from education stakeholders over governments move to abolish ranking of students and schools in national examinations. Photo Andrew Kasuku

"Ranking of schools ndio msingi wa wizi wa mitihani," Abubakar Mohammed, a journalist, commented on my Facebook page. I agree with him totally. He was responding to a post where I asked: "What am I missing in this obsession to rank schools when the very playing field is madly uneven?"

If indeed the government had standardised education, provided facilities and even teachers who don't threaten to strike every three months — then maybe yes. But how in heaven's name we believe ranking schools will improve anything is beyond me. This nonsense has been around for years and people can still point to the run-down school they attended 20 years ago that is still as deplorable as it was then.

People who came top from those impoverished schools and head major organisations today would never consider sending their children to such a place. So how does this ranking progress anything?

However, sadly, as someone commented, the ranking of schools isn't really about the performance of students at all; it's about business. To stop ranking is like stopping certain individuals from advertising their businesses to the world, leave alone those who feel they have been denied a chance to beat their chests! The children are just collateral damage.

The worse thing about this ranking madness is the cheating, the buying of exams and positions and the other ills that go with it. The children get to bear the weight of our greed, our need to sell education, to inflate our egos and make excuses for not having done our part in standardising our education system.

The best thinking I have read to date about the madness that is ranking comes from a blog by Wandia Njoya. I can’t improve on perfection, so I’ll accord her the respect due, for her well thought-out writing and quote as much of it as I can:


About a month ago, our students were privileged to have Jeff Koinange accept their invitation to talk about his life’s journey and his latest book Through My African Eyes.

From the discussions with students before the event, and from the questions they asked Jeff, I could tell that the students were most impressed by fact that Jeff had scored a perfect GPA in Kingsborough Community College in New York, and had gone on to join NYU.

As a teacher who constantly invites guests to come speak to students so as to expand the students’ world view beyond examinations, I must admit that I was a little disappointed.

I would have preferred that the students not focus on scores and instead discuss with Jeff what his book reveals about journalism, international politics (especially in Africa) and on education, and reflect on what they could learn from Jeff’s experience as world-class journalist.

I wanted them to see that a broad-based education, exposure to international history and culture, and good writing skills (of course) open up a person to dialogue with the world.

But I don’t blame our students for the limited scope of their discussion. They were simply reflecting our exam-centred education system. And that’s why I am glad that the government has finally done away with the ranking of schools according to exam performance.

Because if there’s anything that Jeff’s book proves, it is that great education is about exposure and opening kids’ minds to the world; it’s not about exam results. Jeff is about the most famous and decorated journalist in Kenya.

And Jeff did not accomplish all that by scoring straight As in primary and high school. In fact, he does not mention his exam results.

Instead, he tells us about his mother’s commitment to getting him a world-class education from Saint Mary’s School, which he calls “a great institution for character building,” rather than a school that posted high exam scores. Jeff’s mother put a lot of effort into educating her sons at Saint Mary’s School, even though she was an educator at a local Kiambaa school and was often asked by the villagers why her kids were attending school in Nairobi.

As such, Jeff was equipped with what have been identified as the four essential skills of the 21st century: communication, collaboration, critical thinking and creativity.

To survive in today’s world, one needs to be able to speak across cultures (hence the importance of learning history), to be able to communicate, to work with others and solve emerging problems with innovative ideas and solutions.

These skills that help students understand and engage in the world as it is, do not come from examinations. Supporters of the ranking system acknowledge that, but argue that examination mean scores are able to indicate which schools and areas are suffering from inefficient teachers and inadequate facilities.

However, I think that using exams to get such data is sheer laziness, especially for government.

If the Kenyan Open Data Initiative was working as it should, and if all the quality assurance people employed by government were doing their work, we wouldn’t need to torture kids with high stakes examinations to get data that says less than 10 per cent about the kids themselves and more than 90 per cent about their parents’ income, and their social environment, the commitment and working conditions of the teachers, and the amenities they have access to.

If we want to know whether teachers are working in the classroom, we need to follow mostly the teachers, not just the kids! If we want to know what amenities schools have, let’s visit the schools and treat inventories and data collection more seriously; not burden kids with all-determining examinations.

To still be celebrating exam results, and to call for ranking, is a sign of how archaic and mechanical the Kenyan educated classes are, and of how education sector repeatedly lacks imaginative leadership.

If the innovations in digital technology in Kenya should teach us anything, it is that the people moving Kenya forward are not those with high exam scores who grow up to feel that employment is their right; the people moving Kenya are those who are always open to learning and who want to tackle real world problems.

Kenya needs to finally get the political and professional leadership that will steer our education system into the 21st century and get us out of this simplistic use of examination results to address the complex nature of the endeavour that we call education.


‪Please get Wandia’s blog from my FaceBook page and read all of it. But the final word comes from Dennis Chorin Tyrope‪: “Ranking? What for? As far as I am concerned, education is not supposed to be a race, game or anything competitive for that matter!

As a good friend of mine is fond of saying, education is never about examinations but learning. Examinations should just be used to test whether the system in place is effective or not and by that we mean;

‪1. Is the curriculum OK?

‪2. Do the teachers understand it? And are they delivering it correctly?

‪3. Are the facilities available and efficient in helping deliver this curriculum in the intended manner?

‪4. Is the system effective in overseeing the implementation of this curriculum?

So generally, whenever we offer exams and release results all these facets should be examined, not the kids only.

Children are put under so much spotlight, with the event — which they don't even understand — blown out of proportion!

Seems it means much more to the Kaimenyi's than the examined. Bonkers!


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