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February 17, 2019

Lessons from KCSE results

form four candidates of Garissa high school sit for their KCSE mathematics paper. /FILE
form four candidates of Garissa high school sit for their KCSE mathematics paper. /FILE

The 2016 KCSE results have led to intense public chatter. Parents are incredulous and outraged. Pundits of all stripes are offering enlightened and outlandish commentaries.

Politicians and teachers’ unions are excoriating the government and Education CS Fred Matiang’i.

According to Prof Makau Mutua, “the 2016 KSCE results are simply too fishy, not believable”.

In his weekly column in a local newspaper, Mutua said, “It is impossible to clean one aspect of an entirely rotten system without a systemic and publicly accountable overhaul”.

Led by its secretary general Wilson 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 Uhuru Kenyatta to constitute a commission to investigate “the mysteries surrounding” the 2016 KCSE exam.

In Raila’s view, too few students 141 scored As and way too many students 33,399 scored Es. Raila wants “disciplinary action” taken against those behind this “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 decorated with unbridled conjecture. 

The KCSE results, despite what you think about them, provide us with a rare and invaluable opportunity for a deep introspection.

It saddens me that what we- teachers, parents, students, and policymakers - care most 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 system 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, not content. On bended knee, we pray not for wisdom or learning, but grades. We pay for grades. We are upset because the 2016 KCSE did not produce “enough As”.

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 performance.

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 the 2016 KSCE results teach us about students and teachers?

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