Strict rules alone won’t eradicate exam cheating
It has become an annual ritual. Every October, before the start of primary and secondary school national examinations, the Education Cabinet Secretary issues an assurance, riding on a stern warning, that the exams would be free of malpractices.
But a few months later, the same CS reels off a list of schools and candidates whose results were cancelled because of cheating. For example, last year the results of at least 3,427 Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education candidates were cancelled and the results of 53 schools withheld.
While there is no denying there has been an improvement in the administration of exams in the past four years, the fact that such a high number of candidates and schools still try to cut corners makes a loud statement about the state of our society. First, it is a pointer of how deeply the culture of cheating in exams had been entrenched. As the past cases of exam malpractices show, many parents, teachers and school boards are actively involved in seeking leakages or other ways of beating the system.
Secondly, cheating is product of an education and economic system that lays a lot of emphasis on exams and white collar jobs as the key to a decent living. The cutthroat competition for the few places in good secondary schools and universities means that parents and teachers sometimes feel compelled to use every means to ensure children make the cut.
The system of ranking schools and candidates in order of exam performance and the heavy commercialisation of the education sector have also created an environment of unhealthy competition which feeds the cheating monster.
To reduce exam malpractices to negligible levels, Kenya needs more than stern rules and a menacing minister. There is need for an overhaul of national and personal values. We need to embrace a culture of honesty and ethical conduct in everything from how we earn exam results to how we acquire wealth.
There is also the need to reduce the emphasis on exams and focus on traditional formal jobs. That is where the Competency-Based Curriculum (CBC) and the Technical Vocational, Educational and Training institutions (TVETS) come in.
CBC must deliver the promise of providing wholesome education that focuses on developing relevant skills, and not exams. On the other hand if well-managed, TVETs can prove that millions of primary and secondary school graduates who do not make it to the university and middle-level colleges can acquire sound skills that can guarantee them a decent living.