Probe claims of harmful chemical in KCSE exam
In recent years, the government have proved its determination to stamp out irregularities in national examinations and the efforts are bearing fruit.
For the past several weeks, Education Cabinet secretary George Magoha, his Principal secretary Belio Kipsang’ and other senior officials at the ministry as well as at the Kenya National Examination Council (Knec) have been crisscrossing the country to ensure there are no cracks in the system.
There are concerns, however, that while nothing is being left to chance to prevent any form of cheating, the safety and welfare of the candidates may have been neglected. The main concern that has arisen in the current examination season is the safety of a chemical used in the Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education examination chemistry practicals.
Media reports indicate that several candidates, teachers and invigilators have been taken ill and hospitalised after they were allegedly exposed to xylene, with at least one student reportedly suffering serious facial burns after the chemical exploded during practicals.
Despite the dismissal of concerns about the safety of the chemical by Magoha, the cases of students and staff taken ill during the chemistry practicals are too many to be random or coincidental.
Something must have gone wrong somewhere and the least the ministry, the examinations body and other government agencies can do is to carry out thorough investigations.
Claims that the chemical was used in some schools as a substitute for cyclohexane, which is considered safer, is all the more reason the matter must be exhaustively probed. Is there any truth to the allegations that an artificial shortage of cyclohexane was created to give reason for schools to procure the alternative xylene? Who is responsible — either by an act of omission or commission — for the shortage of the safer chemical?
But the biggest question Knec and the ministry should answer is whether the chemical is indeed responsible for the illnesses and injuries suffered by candidates, their teachers and examination officials.
Instead of issuing denials, the Education ministry and Knec should promptly institute investigations into the illnesses and injuries and, even more, about the claims of manipulation of the system to suit certain interests. This matter should be taken more seriously not just because it is about safety, but because there could be issues of integrity and responsibility that need to be addressed.