By Ogova Ondego
Published January 3, 2015
Kenya has with effect from January 2015 banned the ranking of candidates and schools according to their performance in national examinations at primary and secondary levels arguing it contributes little to learning.
The ban has been received with mixed feelings across the country that was all set for the evaluation of its performance on the United Nation’s Millennium Development Goal of ensuring universal primary education for all by 2015; there are seven other MDGs but they aren’t the subject of this article.
To the uninformed the ban, announced by Prof Jacob T Kaimenyi, the Minister for Education, Science and Technology, may have come as a surprise. But not to those who have been following developments in the Education sector since 2003 when the Government hastily re-introduced the much hyped up Free Primary Education (FPE) that it has since projected as being hugely successful despite not having provided the requisite resources for its implementation.
Having messed up the Education system through its not-so-well-thought-out replacement of the 7-4-2-3 with the 8-4-4 system, the government’s FPE appeared to have hammered the last nail into the coffin of a wholistic education system in Kenya.
Parents, aware that the public primary schools could no longer provide quality education for their children, started looking for alternative schools. And it was then that various entrepreneurs set up their own institutions to provide what they felt public schools were unable to give. But that appeared to have put them on the warpath with the government that was hell-bent on proving that its FPE had succeeded. It was on this basis that the government came up with its ‘affirmative’ action of admitting pupils with lower marks from public primary school to national secondary schools while banging the door in the faces of candidates from private primary schools that it derisively termed ‘rich academies’. The hapless children from the ‘academies’ were required to have performed twice as well as their FPE counterparts to get into national secondary schools. But the same government conveniently forgot that it was the one that had created those ‘academies’ by default.
A survey conducted in Nairobi’s Kibera informal settlement in 2003 immediately after FPE was introduced and reported in BBC Focus on Africa magazine showed that “the number of private schools has increased from 76 to 116 now. In private schools, pupil enrolment has risen to around 28, 000 from 12, 600, a rise of more than 100 per cent. Government school enrolment has risen by only 23 per cent, suggesting that parents are aware private schools will better serve them.”
Today, Kenya’s own National Bureau of Statistics confirms that the number of private school-going children has nearly tripled since the introduction of FPE, while the performance in public primary schools has dropped.
Some time back I listened to Dr Edward Sambili, then the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Planning and National Development, say that having brought enrolment in public primary schools from 73.7% in 2000 to 84.2% in 2006, the Government was ‘addressing the issues of the quality of the facilities and services’. I wonder whether the banning of ranking of candidates and schools in national examinations of 2014 is part of ‘addressing the issues of the quality of the facilities and services’.
Almost three years later, in July 2013, I listened to Prof Kaimenyi, the current Cabinet Secretary for Education who just banned the ranking of candidates in national examinations tearing into his immediate former academic colleagues at a book launch for being critical of the 8-4-4 education system that they had said “is in a crisis as it is producing un-employable graduates”.
Describing himself as a ‘politician’—never mind that Kaimenyi is appointed by the President and not elected by the public—the Professor of Dentistry accused the scholars present at the book launch of ignorance and malice.
Kaimenyi said the country’s Education Curriculum was reviewed every five years and that anyone who has anything to say is usually welcome to do so. But I wonder why he did not consult us on how to deal with the ranking of candidates in national examinations before purporting to ban it.
Why does Kenya’s Minister for Education not listen to the stakeholders and negotiate with them on how to make things better for everyone instead of attacking them?
If all is well in the Education sector, why does Dr Tom Odhiambo, a senior lecturer at the University of Nairobi assert in Incorporating Oral Culture in Education for Development: “I hold the view that the education system in Kenya today is in crisis, and that it is not imparting relevant and adequate skills to students”?
Why does performance scholar Salome Mshai Mwangola argue that “We need to be wary of the tendency to consider our education system solely as a factory churning out human resources, and begin to think about how we must use it to prepare the next generation to participate fully in all aspects of life”?
Why did a task force appointed by retired President Mwai Kibaki to review the 8-4-4 education system recommend that it be replaced if the system is just fine?
Congested classrooms, limited physical facilities, a shortage of qualified teachers and late disbursement of funds from the Government to the schools are some of the challenges that ‘Challenges Facing the Implementation of Free Primary Education in Kenya’, a paper by KENPRO Online Papers Portal, list as bedeviling FPE and which the Government should be seeking solutions to.
Does Prof Kaimenyi understand that the high ratio of teachers to pupils of between 1:70 and even 1:100 in Kenyan public primary schools that exceeds the recommended maximum rate of one teacher to 40 learners makes it difficult for teachers to pay attention to all learners, give adequate assignments to the pupils or even to inculcate discipline among their wards?
Does Prof Kaimenyi realise that the ratio of textbooks to pupils of 1:5 makes it difficult for learners to complete their ‘homework’?
Does Prof Kaimenyi recognise that the pupils’ sitting on mats does not only hinder movement but also adversely affects their writing skills and physical development?
Does Prof Kaimenyi know that many pupils in Kenya learn under trees or from caves and that many schools don’t even have a pit latrine?
Is Prof Kaimenyi aware of the assessment of the basic literacy and numeracy skills of children aged 6–16 years by the Government’s own National Assessment Centre (NAC) in 2009 that revealed that 10% of Class Eight pupils (read final year primary school pupils!) could not solve Class Two level subtraction problems while 4% could neither read a Class Two level paragraph in the official languages, English and Kiswahili?
Does Prof Kaimenyi know that literacy levels “are lower in public schools than in private schools as revealed by that study?
That the teacher: pupil ratio is unacceptably high is manifested in the constant labour unrest as teachers push for better remuneration for their work. In fact, teachers were set to go on strike on January 5, 2015.
Is Prof Kaimenyi aware of the alarmingly high level of dropout rate in public primary schools; that of the 1.5 million pupils who joined primary school in Class One in 2003, only about 500,000 of them sat the Kenya Certificate of Primary Education examination in 2010?
It is only in Kenya where a university graduate is denied relevant registration to practise as an engineer or a medical doctor after having undergone seven years of training on the ground that the said graduate’s public (read Government) university’s curriculum did not satisfy the standards required for registration.
It is only in Kenya where a pupil who scores 420 marks in a private primary school is denied admission to a national school but one who scored 330 marks in a public primary school is admitted. But both sat the same Kenya Certificate of Primary Education examination that is administered by the Kenya National Examinations Council.
It is only in Kenya where competition that spurs learners to greater heights of academic excellence has just been banned in schools by the Ministry of Education; from 2014, the ranking of candidates and schools based on their performance in national examinations has been banned.
Writing in Incorporating Oral Culture in Education for Development, the book whose launch in July 2013 was presided over by Prof Kaimenyi, Dr Odhiambo says, “The Kenya Constitution 2010 may be a good starting point for…preliminary reflections on how to re-orient the education system in Kenya.”
Odhiambo, who teaches literature, poses six questions that he contends would help inform “attempts to resolve the crisis in the education sector in Kenya”:
• What are the Constitutional provisions on the education of the child in Kenya today?
• What are the socio-cultural expectations parents and society have of the education system?
• What economic expectations do parents and society have of the education system?
• What are the expectations of the providers of education?
• How do we tap into knowledge structures, traditions and practices of the diverse cultures in Kenya to enhance the value of our education system?, and
• How do we prepare school leavers for the Global Village where the understanding and use of ICT skills undergird all careers and upward mobility?