This post is in response to some interesting events that have happened in Kenya with regards to examination results
First lets be clear, I think what the CS has achieved is commendable and laud his efforts
First a preamble
Kenya’s education system (academics) is defined largely by its two transition methods
a) Transition from primary to secondary school education schools
b) Transition from secondary education schools to University colleges and institutions
Previously there was a Primary education followed by two tiers of Secondary education labeled ‘O level’ and ‘A level’ before a 3 year University program making a 7-4-2-3 academic program for those who managed to successfully get through all stages at their first attempt. Of course there were some specialist courses at the University that required more years such as fields of medicine where the courses required 5 years to complete.
Prior to this system at the break of independence, Primary Education also had two tiers, while secondary education also had two tiers before University college but the number of years before college were much fewer.
The current system was a result of elaborate research initiated by the National government in response to growing concerns that the academic model of the time had become obsolete or more precisely did not serve well the growing needs of the country.
The current system is an 8-4-4 system in which the first 8-4 years are geared towards ostensibly nurturing the younger minds to be more self reliant with practical life skills before going into higher education for those who qualify.
Of course like any system, there are now new concerns that the system overloads the students, quality is low and other concerns or complaints about the inadequacy of the system.
In this post I am not going to go into the merits, failures or successes or in fact any discussion about any of the academic models in Kenya or elsewhere
This article only takes a brief look into a practice and in fact a culture that crept in, first in very little bits, but eventually consumed the academic circle, and that is the culture of Exam Cheating
Why is Exam Cheating prevalent
The learning model in Kenya, (as in most “developing or merging” countries) is fashioned along the same model for access to opportunities. It is NOT based on a collaborative or cumulative model, but is based on a gated/fenced access, with a throttled pass model. Let me explain
When ordinarily a human wakes up there is one thing generally guaranteed, they can breathe freely and never have to think about quotas or allocations. As such there are no fences or access concerns. If however we crammed people into a space ship and sent them into outer space, we will suddenly need to develop hierarchies that determine who has priority access to which resources and that will include even the most basic or fundamental resources required for survival. This is the gating/fencing access am referring to.
So lets get back to planet earth and specifically, Kenya. Our history and present circumstances are largely influenced by the impact of colonial occupation, and the subsequent turn of events after we gained independence. Do not get me wrong, am not blaming the colonials, but we have to acknowledge that most of present day Kenya revolves around western or colonial influence.
Back to the discussion, yes we had local kings, chiefs, warlords, and associated structure before the arrival of colonials. And am sure pre-colonial history will show the gated resource management. When the colonials invaded Africa, they fashioned there own type of gated access to resources. Among these gated mechanisms was the hierarchy within Administrative structure they implemented in which they installed persons they deemed loyal or at least somewhat compliant with their model. And then implement systems that furthered their perception of social norms. So the academic institutions were fashioned to catapult natives from ignorance into socially acceptable humans.
At this point I fast forward the discussion
Our human nature quickly outgrows any system we design, and therefore natural selection using such systems reaches saturation very quickly. What is the point? Well before saturation, its easy to use or deploy a system to naturally select qualifiers for access to resources, but however, once saturation is achieved, the only way to provide gated access to resources is by appointed or select “delegates” in turn, using some conjured mechanism of selection. Note that the selection of delegates is in itself another conjured mechanism.
In short, we can quickly move from a free for all access to resources, to a heavily gated, resource access system in just a few short moves. Take for instance the circumstances of people in war torn regions Allepo Syria, South Sudan, etc. But I digress
Colonial Kenya, and post independence Kenya, resources and opportunities that initially belonged to all Kenyans and were readily accessible instantly became limited resources and opportunities, that could only be accessed either as favours from the Administration or through some system or qualification process. Initially the system appeared to work, but gradually the majority of the population continually got equal access and opportunity to qualify but unfortunately the resource pool remained and todate remains stagnant or in fact is shrinking. The resource pool is includes formal employment in government, corporations or businesses, access to land or farming, opportunities for innovation, business etc
When a qualification system is saturated the it has to undergo restructuring. It can either become more restrictive e.g setting of tougher qualification criteria but which are usually inconsistent or out of sync with ultimate goals or benefits or the systems gets replaced entirely. Unfortunately governments are slow evolving creatures, therefore cannot change quickly enough to adapt, whereas people will naturally move into survival mode when faced with challenges turning misfortune into opportunity.
I would like at this juncture to state that the academic and opportunity models in Kenya is ridiculously absurd. Instead of focus on creating more resources such as wealth, expanded opportunity etc, we focus all our attention on establishing bigger or more elaborate fences and gates and the associated personnel to man these fences/gates. Phrases such as “utanguka mtihani” or “hutaweza hiyo kazi”, “huyo jamaa alishindwa” are the hallmark of the gated/fenced mindset resulting from this model. Yes its okay to admit that you have used such or similar phrases often
But again lets get back to the story on hand
If its not clear, we have a severe shortage of (or perhaps debilitating restriction of access to ) resources in the country. The system of access to these resources, is through a limiting and limited gating/fencing off process and associated gate keeping mentality ( the wheeler-dealers, brokers, armed guards, cronies, relatives etc in higher office). Under these circumstances, any objective, fair and open qualification system is not able to fairly and objectively select qualified access to the resources, because either the system will get overloaded with qualified people, or setting up tougher qualification criteria succeed in locking out majority including well qualified and better suited persons, and the tough criteria does not necessarily reflect the required commitment or needs for the opportunities etc.
Based on these challenges people adapt, and unscrupulous characters take advantage of these gaps to create alternative or corrupt channels, that are far much easier to engage and work in, with instant and in many cases gratifying results. Over time these channels become networks and evolve into cultures and social norms. In this case, the networks involve the examiners, educators, institutions, security, storage and transport, parents and the students. Each and everyone of these players has benefited one way or another from exam cheating.
So we now reflect on two “successes” – It has been reported that the ‘surprise’ and early announcement of results is considered a success in that the corruption cartels were not able to influence these results
It is also reported that there were fewer “higher scoring” marks per student even in schools that have a record of performing well in the past.
So the questions are
- How is poor performance of students considered a mark of success?
- Secondly, if ambush works this year and maybe the next, how is ambush considered to be a long term measure of, or indeed a strategy for success?
- Has the problem really been solved or did we create a wormhole that we perhaps successfully sneaked into?
We will await a comprehensive audit, but I can say this, its possible the networks could have been subdued, or were not as pronounced this year, but exam cheating is not an issue that will be resolved in one year or regime, simply because everything else ( opportunities, resources, networks) remains in the same state.
You will note that I will not even go into the discussion on quality of teachers, curriculum, study hours, extra learning tuition, costs, workload, (and hyuk hyuk hyuk Staddy 1 laptops and electricity). All these are topics on their own.
There is simply no cause for celebration
But in closing I have the following reflections to ponder on
- In advanced countries, students are usually allowed to carry a “cheat sheet” into an examination center
- We do not encourage “cramming” but yet expect students to “cram” for the exams
- An experienced professional will always refer to a guide-book or instructions manual
Over to you folks