Sunday, November 28, 2010

Scrap KCPE, but fix our schools first

Sunday Nation 28 November 2010

The recent call for the scrapping of the Kenya Certificate of Primary Education (KCPE) examination has raised temperatures all over the country.

Much of the noise is attributed to supporters of this examination while very few voices have been heard supporting the call for it to go.

Unfortunately, the political angle to the debate has robbed it of serious intellectual input that would have placed everything in context and led to a more reasoned outcome that would be more beneficial to learners.

Instead, this debate therefore looks set to be settled in the political arena rather than in the Ivory Tower where it belongs.

It is important for us to identify the key issues in order to facilitate a more sober result.

Why do we have these national examinations in the first place? The answer to this question will provide the way forward with this and other national examinations.

Independent Kenya’s first education system was borrowed directly from the colonialist.

The colonial curriculum had the very simple goal of educating the native just enough to enable him to assist with lowly administrative tasks, but not enough to “swell his head” and give him ideas of self-rule.

Several examinations were therefore introduced even in early primary in order to filter out the potential clerks and other lower cadres of staff in the colonial service.

British curriculum

Getting to university involved navigating a bewildering array of examinations culminating in passing the prestigious Ordinary and Advanced level examinations based on the British curriculum.

Piecemeal modifications were progressively carried out on this system after independence until former President Moi came up with his 8-4-4 brainwave in the mid-1980s.

The aftermath of this change saw only two “hurdles” between a primary school entrant and entry into university – KCPE and its secondary school counterpart, KCSE.

Apart from the segregative motive of the earlier examination “roadblocks”, a deeper philosophy underlies these multiple national examinations.

This is based on scarcity of resources needed to educate every citizen to the highest level available in the country.

Shortages of teachers, equipment and brick and mortar necessitate some sort of filter to ensure that those that do reach these high levels are assured of a high quality of education that would be useful to society.

As a society’s means gradually improve, the shortages become less and less acute and it becomes unnecessary to stop the willing student from proceeding with their education to the level that is satisfactory to them.

KCPE apologists are displaying a kind of thinking akin to the Oriental allegory about a king who planted a tree and instructed a soldier to guard it and water it to ensure it is not destroyed by the elements or mischievous subjects.

Centuries later, soldiers would still be posted to guard the tree, even though nobody could remember the original reason for this!

The question everyone should be asking at this point is whether we have enough resources to convert every primary school into a complete school with primary and secondary school facilities.

Indeed, the goal of the Education ministry should be to develop enough resources to ensure that every child who enters Standard One can, if they so wish, go all the way to a tertiary learning institution of their choice.

Dr Lukoye Atwoli is a consultant psychiatrist and lecturer at Moi University’s School of Medicine

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