Examination-cheating cartels down but not out

Tuesday, October 22nd, 2019 06:05 |
Education Cabinet secretary George Magoha. Photo/BERNARD MALONZA

The Ministry of Education is on high alert over what it says is a discovery of plans to beat the systems that have been put in place to stop cheating in the national examinations scheduled to start this week.

It seems that as the government tightens the noose around the cartels that steal exams,the more innovative they become.  The government must not relent, and it is commendable that the Ministry of Education is not resting on its laurels and is taking no chances in safeguarding the integrity of the exams. Last week, Education Cabinet Secretary George Magoha held a top-level meeting of government officials to discuss how to secure the exams.

Kenya’s examinations, both at the primary and secondary school levels, had become a joke. An elaborate cartel had for many years run a multi-billion-shilling industry where exams were sold to willing buyers. This saw schools recording more than 100 As and huge numbers qualifying for university. 

The cartels’ tentacles stretched into the Kenya National Examination Council (KNEC), examiners, invigilators, schools, the police and parents in an intricate web that facilitated cheating. By the time Fred Matiang’i took over the Education docket and intervened to stamp out cheating, the examination system had all but collapsed.

But it seems the cartels never went to sleep. Cheating is apparently such a lucrative business that every year, they are willing to go for broke in their attempts to steal exams. They continue to make the attempts despite the high risks faced by students and schools who cheat. 

One can imagine that the returns for the cartels in this high-risk environment are very lucrative. What with the ever growing number of candidates. In the 2019 exams, about a million will sit the Kenya Certificate of Primary education (KCPE), while 700,000 will write the Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education (KCSE) exams. 

These are the kind of numbers that have created a fiercely competitive system where the pressure to secure transition to the ever narrowing spaces at the next step of the academic ladder have spawned a huge corruption enterprise.

Kenyans must never allow the country to be dragged back there again. The price of credible exams is eternal vigilance. The cartels are ever ready to make a comeback.

There are two key players in ensuring vigilance.

The first is parents. It is parents who provide the money that oils the exam cheating system. Parents must stop paying such money. They should encourage their children to study hard as the only viable way of passing exams.

In any case, the government’s verification system has been tightened to ensure exam cheats are nabbed even at the marking stage. Parents must know the risk is too high.

The second is the government. There is a need to strengthen the system of middle level colleges in Kenya. They need to be made attractive to school leavers by facilitating easy absorption into the job market for graduates.

This will create alternative career paths at all levels of exam performances and school exit levels. This is critical in easing the pressure of acing exams at all costs.

Further, the exam cheating system plugged into a lot of other business opportunities. The high number of students passing at Form Four provided a huge market for private universities and the parallel degree courses in public universities. Those numbers have now died out, and the university system in Kenya is going through a most traumatic adjustment as it aligns itself to the new realities of competing for  the vastly reduced numbers of candidates.

Primary and secondary private schools used the huge numbers of candidates with high grades to market themselves and charge high fees because they could guarantee students will either “go to university,” at secondary level, or “go to Alliance,” at the primary level. 

All these players have a huge stake in whether the exams can be “facilitated” to produce the flood as seen hitherto. And they are watching and waiting. 

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