Performance generally improved, with 315 candidates scoring grade A compared to 142 last year. This is a significant development which must be sustained.
Core to this is quality teaching so that candidates are properly prepared to tackle the exams and not rely on shortcuts, which when curtailed, expose them to failure.
Even so, performance variances were discernible and followed the predictable trends where the best national schools dominated the top rungs while the district schools were relegated to the bottom. This illustrates the disparities in the education system where some students start and operate on a higher plane compared to the others.
Gender parity has nearly been achieved in terms of enrolment, with girls constituting 48.71 per cent compared to 51.29 per cent for boys.
However, in terms of performance, boys did better than girls, as they excelled in 20 subjects compared to six for girls.
Although the top candidate was a female, the challenge is to work on improving girls’ performance and especially in critical subjects such as mathematics and the sciences that enhance chances in pursuing lucrative courses and careers and eventually putting them on a good stead to progress in society.
To a large extent, the Education ministry and the Kenya National Examinations Council have done a commendable job in eliminating cheating and other irregularities in the past three years. The strict regulations introduced in 2016 have borne fruit and must be enhanced and sustained.
Before, we had a horrible situation where exams were massively stolen and worse, grades altered after marking, through a network of conniving head teachers, parents and examinations council officials.
We reached a stage where the grades did not mean anything and if we continued on that trajectory, by now our examinations and certificates would have lost credibility nationally and internationally. Therefore, the level of integrity realised in the past few years must be institutionalised and become the norm in our operations. Nonetheless, the few cases of irregularities must be dealt with appropriately.
After the release of the exams, the next question is transition. Compared to the previous years, the number of candidates qualifying for university education has risen to 90,377 compared to 70,073 last year. But this brings to the fore the whole question of higher education.
University remains the ultimate goal for every candidate and parent. Unfortunately, not all have the abilities and capabilities to achieve that. Admission to public universities is itself unfair. Except for a few, the bulk of students are thrown into courses they neither applied for nor have interest in and so for the entire period on campus, they struggle and upon graduation, move on to different areas meaning they wasted their time in those classes.
This is the time to rethink university admissions and specifically link it to students’ preferences to maximise outputs.
Alternatives are available, principally, technical and vocational training, which equips graduates with productive skills for gainful employment.
For long, however, this sector has been ignored and it is only in recent years that the government has changed and refocused attention to it.
Huge amounts of resources are being deployed to revamp this sector and this should be matched by equal public information awareness to get students to enrol for the programmes. This sector holds the promise for the future and must be encouraged.
The role of examinations is to provide feedback on the learning outcomes. They establish the level of mastery of the knowledge, skills and attitudes acquired at any given learning cycle.
However, we have lost this conceptualisation and turned exams into a competition where the fittest survive. Yet the learning environments vary.
Conditions under which the exams are administered also differ. This is why we continuously argue for a review of the education system and among others, shift the focus from passing examinations to acquisition of knowledge and skills to prepare the learners for survival either in employment or business.
Lessons learnt this year should help the schools to improve teaching and ensure candidates excel in national exams.