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CBC exam must help us grind the ‘golden calf’ in our system

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Education Cabinet Secretary Ezekiel Machogu. [Sammy Omingo, Standard]

The announcement that Competence Based Curriculum examinations won’t be used as a measure for placement of candidates into junior high must have come as a great relief to many stakeholders.

The drama that has surrounded exams is simply not explicable. I cannot quite recall when it all began, but the celebration, drama, disappointment, and at times, suicide deaths that have characterised the announcement of results for the two main national exams – KCPE and KCSE – have left me wondering if we have not created idols reminiscent of the golden calf of Moses’ days.

The strange mix of tension and revelry is perhaps only rivaled by that of the presidential election results. Back in the days, Moses had taken a trip up the mountain for his regular updates with God. But on this occasion he took longer than usual as God gave him the new constitution for His people.

Down at the camp, the wilderness pilgrims got so bored that they talked Aaron, Moses’ brother and spokesman, into creating some pastime entertainment. Aaron obliged and with gifts from the people, quickly curved out a golden calf around which a party ensured – song, dance, and high revelry. Coming down the mountain, Moses was so shocked that, in utter disgust, he threw down the twin tablets of the law thereby breaking them before they even reached the people.

We too, appear to have curved out for us a golden calf around which to dance every twice a year – exam results. As a form of national entertainment, one could excuse the drama, but as part of an educational process, there seems to be no value-add whatsoever. To the contrary, like happened to Moses, the song and dance has often resulted in breaking of many education laws. Cheating in exams has become a national menace and shame. In some cases, some parents beat their children to death for failure. Several schools were often reported to be involved in unethical practices to attain that coveted but elusive mean grade.

In fact, even elite schools appear to have abandoned conventional teaching and resorted to drilling the candidates. Some winning tricks have included waking up our students by 4am to study, completing the syllabus a year earlier and then practising past papers until students master every possible type of question.

In short, conventional learning had been sacrificed at the altar of cramming. In contrast, my good old teachers had cautioned us against dependence on past papers and instead helped us to learn concepts and principles so we could answer whatever question came. Result – we passed very well, but with no drama!

Back to Moses, when he came into the camp and saw the spectacle, he decided it had to stop. He took the calf they had made and burned it in the fire; then he ground it to powder, scattered it on the water and made the Israelites drink it. I think this is what the CBC assessments will hopefully do to our golden calf. For there is little or no educational value of the public announcement of KCPE and KCSE results. We hope that with it will go away with ranking students, schools, counties, and at times teachers. This does not seem to happen in other educational systems – GCE, ACT, ACE, etc. This move will certainly serve to drastically reduce the anxiety and tension faced by students, teachers, schools and parents. The net result is likely to be a significant drop in incidences of cheating by candidates, fraud by schools, and undue pressure by parents on children.

Similarly, we need to demystify this exam results thing and restore the worth and significance of exams as a critical tool in the education process and not a caricature of a national idol.

In this way we will save ourselves the agony of losing students in suicides; stem evil schemes of fraudulent school proprietors; and check unethical educational practices in some of our schools – all of which have the potential of seriously undermining quality of our basic education. Like Moses, let’s take the bold step and grind up this golden calf!  

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