Sunday, November 8, 2009

Focus attention on the real examination cheats

Sunday Nation 08 November 2009

As the Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education (KCSE) examinations enter the home stretch, allegations of cheating and exam leakages have risen stridently to fever pitch.

Never mind that the ‘‘evidence’’ proffered this year has consisted of handwritten approximate questions rather than the full papers that have been offered for sale in the past. Indeed, one of the teachers arrested in connection with examination cheating was accused of collecting money from candidates and failing to produce the leaked papers as promised!


Quite apart from the fact that the leakage allegations may be overrated, these allegations point to the very core of the Kenyan problem. We have never seen a scapegoat we didn’t want to blame for one thing or another. Instead of wasting time blaming the Kenya National Examinations Council (KNEC), we should direct our attention to the real culprits in this alleged malfeasance.

The media cannot escape blame for completely missing the point and continuing to blame the examinations council without producing a shred of evidence of culpability on their part. In amplifying this non-issue unnecessarily, they have succeeded only in raising anxiety among the poor candidates whose emotions are already frayed as they face a make-or-break moment in their lives.

The press seems to have been ready to break some sort of news on an exam leakage if only to spite the KNEC after it declared that this year’s exams would be the most secure ever. In the pursuit of an exclusive story, it behoves the media to be responsible and sensitive to the needs of these young people who constitute the promise of a better future for our country.

They are the investment we make in order to enter old age with satisfaction that we have not lived in vain. Destroying their young lives in the search for an exclusive ‘‘break’’ is not only heartless, it is also extremely irresponsible. The second culprit in this saga is the cabal of greedy teachers and other examination staff who spend sleepless nights dreaming up new ways of making money from gullible parents and students by purporting to sell exam papers.

Looking at the so-called ‘‘leaks’’, it appears some people involved in the examination setting chain made educated guesses as to what questions were likely to appear in the exam, and proceeded to sell these guesses in the name of exam leakages. These individuals must be pursued relentlessly and made to face the full force of the law in order to discourage the notion that examination success can be bought.

Another group that needs chastising is that of parents who raise their children to believe that anything goes in the rat-race of life, and that buying leaked examination papers is par for the course. Prominent thieves are glorified in our living rooms and given positions of responsibility, while those that eke out an honest existence are derided as fools for not ‘‘eating where they work!’’

At the end of it all, we expect our children to import values from another planet and grow up as honest citizens building a ‘‘middle-income industrialising country by 2030’’! Given the sick society they are growing up in, it is difficult to blame the teenage students for rushing to purchase anything that would give them an advantage over their colleagues in the examinations.

But for the sake of equity in this discussion, it would be remiss not to mention them as part of the rot that bedevils our failing education system. No matter what society you grow up in, the ultimate decision to steal rests with the individual thief. Any student caught cheating must, therefore, be severely punished in order to deter like-minded colleagues, and to raise the cost of cheating beyond most potential exam cheats.

In my opinion, it is missing the point to accuse the KNEC of ‘‘not doing enough to stem cheating in our national exams’’ when the parents, teachers and students themselves continue developing newer methods of cheating! Indeed, the ‘‘leakage’’ allegations have yet to be solidly proved, given that so far (at the time of writing this) no one has produced a leaked exam paper that has been offered for sale to a candidate unlike in past years.

All there is to show are a few handwritten fragments of questions whose format and language even differs from the final product itself. For the sake of development of this country, we must start being more proactive and demanding more of ourselves before pointing fingers at others for whatever we perceive to be wrong with our society.

Indeed, in a perfect society, the KNEC would not need to make any elaborate security plans for the exams, since nobody would have an interest in gaining an unfair advantage over another by stealing the exams!

Dr Atwoli is a consultant psychiatrist and lecturer, Moi University School of Medicine

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