Exam cancellation exposes gaps in our education system

Friday, July 10th, 2020 00:00 |
Education CS George Magoha. Photo/PD/File

Laban Chweya

Education Cabinet Secretary George Magoha has announced that learning in primary and secondary schools will resume next year.

The cancellation has dimmed the hopes of students and parents, especially Class Eight and Form Four candidates who were preparing to sit their final exams this year.

However, what Prof Magoha did not explain is what it really means to lose one school year for the candidates.

Indeed, going to school is the best available avenue to develop skills. School time is fun and it helps raise social skills and awareness - everything the pandemic is threatening to destroy.

This, however, need not be the case. The effects of Covid-19 on learning are grievous, but there are ways we can mitigate some of the consequences.

A number of public and private schools that have access to electricity and Internet have been using online learning platforms to teach their students. 

However, many of them cannot assess or rank students effectively because of various challenges.

This is because our system relies on written examinations hence we cannot and are not able to move students to the next level in their education.

This is the main reason the CS had to postpone the written exams that are managed by the Kenya National Examination Council.

However, what many Kenyans might not know is that schools offering the international curriculum are running a fully-fledged learning programme.

Unlike those offering the local curriculum, they have an inbuilt mechanism of  assessing and ranking competencies away from written exams. 

Because of their system, students in those schools will move to next level of education without losing the academic year despite of the Coronavirus pandemic.

Essentially, those in examination classes will be assessed and graduate to join higher grades including universities. 

The big question is, how are these schools assessing and ranking students?

The major difference is that the international curriculum renders itself to a holistic approach that assesses morelearner skills beyond written examinations.

Besides class work, grading is also based on participation in other school activities such as science, sports and all other skills-based assignments.

The assessment is based on the learner’s total accumulation of skills throughout the period of study.

That is why even without exams, previous performance, class attendance, effort, personal discipline can be used as the basis for grading students for transition to another academic stage.

A student sitting and passing a 1 hour and 30 minutes exam is not the only guarantee for them to proceed to the next level.

With the help of technology, students under the international curriculum are currently being subjected to regular assessments and assignments that are marked online and discussed with the learners.

International Centres offering the have, for instance, Cambridge International Curriculum have been asked to submit their past exam papers and student spreadsheets, documenting the learners’ performance throughout the study period for grading.

At the end of August, students in examination classes will have a credible result that will enable them to apply for admission in universities both locally and internationally.

This will give them a significant over their peers taking KCSE exams who would have to wait until next year.

It must also be pointed that technology is a critical enabler in the process. The Jubilee government launched a very ambitious laptop project, which never really came to see light of day.

This would have been the best time to use that technology to mitigate the effects of Covid-19.

It is, therefore, unfortunate that our Form Four candidates who have spent more than three and a half years in school cannot progress because their promotion is determined by exams written in less than two hours.

 The anxiety many learners, their families and teachers are feeling in regard to the cancellation of exams is probably a sad reflection of the weakness of our education system.

Writer is a dean of students at an international school in Nairobi.

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