The improved performance in this year's Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education examination is a demonstration that the tough regulations instituted to restore sanity in the national exams four years ago are beginning to pay dividends. After a dip in the past four years as the exam system was being shaken and cheating cartels dismantled, things are settling down and candidates are getting their bearing. There is an equilibrium and the normal curve is taking shape.
We have turned the corner and schools and candidates can now concentrate on doing the right thing - teaching and learning. What we had in the past was a horrifying experience, where schools drilled candidates and went ahead to play monkey tricks to obtain exceptionally good grades but which were fake. It was a bubble that was bound to burst and, true, it did.
Among the highlights of the results is the increased number of A students - 627 compared to 315 last year. Similarly, those who scored grades C+ and above and, therefore, qualified for university education rose dramatically to 125,746 from 90,377.
An education system requires progressive growth in enrolment and transition. When the numbers of university qualifiers fell drastically in recent years, there was hue and cry as that signalled regression in higher education. Since all the qualifiers were admitted to public universities, parallel degree programmes died. The most affected were private institutions, which could not find a pool to pick from. Now there is hope for them and, importantly, the growth is incremental and, hence, manageable.
It is not lost on anyone though that the exams continue to exhibit disparities in terms of regional performance. For example, schools from the coastal and northeastern regions did not record as many As to earn a place in the list of top performers. Further, national school candidates dominated the A grades, producing 495 of the 627. Private schools had 67 As, extra-county schools 61 and sub-county four. County schools did not produce an A.
Although at the top level girls schools did very well with Kenya High taking the top honours with 76 straight As, it is notable that, in the overall scheme of things, boys still outperformed girls. In particular, girls did well in the languages and social sciences whereas boys ran away with the sciences.
For an economy that strives to attain industrialised status in the next few years, premium is placed in mathematics, sciences and technology. Those who excel in those areas are, therefore, assured of better opportunities at the workplace and in society. Campaigns to encourage girls to pursue and excel in the sciences and technology must be intensified to create an equitable society.
Notably, the exams have demonstrated that inequality persists in the school system with those well-endowed - naturally, the national schools - offering better opportunities for success and, ultimately, higher progression in society.
And with exam results out, the next question is progression. Some 125,746 high school leavers will proceed to university. But the question is: what about the rest, constituting about three-quarters of the cohort? And this is particularly in a society where there is an obsession with degrees and higher academic qualifications.
Nonetheless, for those not qualified for university, there are various options. In recent years, the government has expanded the tertiary sector, particularly technical and vocational education and training (TVET). There at least 11 national polytechnics and a host of technical and vocational training institutions that offer competitive courses. For good measure, not only are they properly equipped but the government offers bursaries and scholarships, which make them vital avenues for acquisition of higher education and skills for professional growth.
We, therefore, we encourage school leavers to seriously consider taking that path, which promises equally good economic and social rewards as degrees. Pertinent to this, parents ought to change their perception and accept the reality that there are options outside the realm of university education.
The past four years have shown that reforms are achievable. It is gratifying that Education Cabinet Secretary George Magoha, who was at the centre of the reforms as chair of the Kenya National Examinations Council (Knec), has pledged to keep his foot on the pedal. The onus is on the education managers to stay the course and even extend the reforms to all sectors.
The sanctity of national exams must be maintained. Never again should we allow charlatans to invade the education sector and use exams as a means for profiteering and personal aggrandisement.