KCPE tweaks mask schools’ quality woes

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KCPE tweaks mask schools’ quality woes


George Magoha

Education Cabinet Secretary George Magoha and Knec chief executive Mercy Karogo during the release of the 2020 Kenya Certificate of Primary Education (KCPE) examination results at Mitihani House in Nairobi on April 15, 2021. PHOTO | EVANS HABIL | NMG

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Summary

  • Simple arithmetic would show that for a multiple choice exam your result cannot be in odd numbers. Secondly, when one analyses the results of successive results one notices a pattern where for some subject the highest score defies logic or expectation.

The dust has now settled on the Kenya Certificate of Primary Education (KCPE) exam results released recently by Education Cabinet Secretary George Magoha. Contrary to fears that the public had about the impact of the pandemic on learning across the country, the results demonstrated the resilience of the pupils and all those who worked to support them, ranging from their parents, teachers and the larger society.

With Covid-19, the disparity between public and private schools became quickly evident in 2020. While a majority of the public primary schools closed in compliance with government directives, private schools transitioned to online learning.

Consequently, by the time the candidate class went back to school, the pupils in private schools had had uninterrupted learning while those in public schools were struggling to catch up, with several months of lost time. This was compounded by the fact that the academic calendar had to be shortened to recover lost time. They, consequently, were required to cover the remaining content in a shorter period.

Due to this reality, it was feared that the results would demonstrate the inequalities in the education system, with private school pupils expected to outperform their public school counterparts. This had been the trend for several years, leading public outcry. When the results were released, public schools occupied a majority of the top slots, outperforming private schools contrary to expectations.

This is good for the education system, since a country cannot progress based on privatising public goods. There are critical services such as education that should always be provided by the public to ensure equity and sustainability.

Despite this reality, Kenya’s education system, especially at the primary school level, has seen a proliferation of academies due to the under-investment by the government over the years in the sector demonstrated by poor quality of performance.

Consequently, the results should be a reason for celebration, since they show a reversal of the above trend. One may argue that free primary education is starting to bear fruit. However, there are concerns that the examination results may have been standardised. Further, that the process was carried out in such a manner that the effects were disproportionately felt by those in private schools. However, the Ministry of Education has sought to play down these concerns.

The question of standardisation in examinations is not new. Anybody who has had a child sit his or her KCPE exams will have heard of this monster. It is not surprising to see a child scoring 99 percent in a subject where every question is allocated two marks with the question paper having 50 questions.

Simple arithmetic would show that for a multiple choice exam your result cannot be in odd numbers. Secondly, when one analyses the results of successive results one notices a pattern where for some subject the highest score defies logic or expectation.

It would be interesting to find the number of pupils who scored above 80 percent in mathematics, for example, in the recently released exams. How many were from public schools as compared to those from private schools?

I have a daughter who should sit her exams soon. If you talk to her, she will tell you about her concerns over standardisation already.

The blanket denial of the existence of this practice by the Ministry of Education flies in the face of anecdotal evidence over the years that is in abundance. Instead of trying to convince the public that it is not undertaken, the government needs to address the more fundamental question of the standards in our public schools.

It is necessary to address the state of infrastructure and the quality of learning in public primary schools. The focus must be on ensuring that children in both public and private primary schools are exposed not just to the same content, but importantly that this is undertaken in a similar environment.

This should ensure that when they are assessed, it is based largely on their abilities without influence of the operating context.

Odote teaches at the University of Nairobi.

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