Scores in exams hide more than they often reveal
I was expelled from school in 1998 when I was barely 15 for highlighting the problems that students faced. Since my mother could not afford to take me to an alternative school, I ended up in the streets of Nairobi as a hawker. Last year, 18 years after I was expelled, I sat for my Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education (KCSE) examinations.
I was 34, married and a father of three. By that time, I had given lectures in Ivy League universities after rigorous self-education.
I had by then also published my book, UnBounded. Having decided to contest for a political seat in the August election, I feared that I risked being stopped from vying on a technicality.
For this reason mainly, I enrolled for and wrote the examination whose results were released shortly after Christmas. My experience during the examination period is worth sharing because the results have been the subject of robust public debate.
Before one got into the examination room, one had to surrender his watch, hat and anything that was suspected could used to abet cheating.
I handed over my watch, wallet, handkerchief and my phone to the security team.
After they found out that a student in another examination room had hidden his phone inside his shoe, we were all made to remove our shoes as part of the search. If one went to the bathroom during the examination, one was searched yet again on returning.
When one was done with one paper, one could not leave the examination room until the stipulated time was up. There were determined invigilators monitoring every candidate to ensure there was no cheating. One invigilator had a sign-in sheet while another had a book with photos of candidates to counter-check with the ones pasted on the candidate’s desk. There was no possibility, therefore, of a proxy writing the examinations on behalf of a candidate. There were, in addition, armed police officers in the examination hall.
During the period, I had a lot of time to think.
I thought of ways this kind of robust scrutiny should apply to anyone who occupies public office. Their business should be our business because they are handling our affairs. Thorough inspection is a good thing; it keeps people on the straight and narrow.
That is why I support the strict implementation of Chapter Six of the Constitution on integrity.
HOPE NOT LOST
It is an example of weeding out cheats in our political system. Why would candidates for political office resist lifestyle audits, for example?
Unless they have something to hide, they should willingly subject themselves to such audits. I believe strongly that we do not focus on the fundamental qualities of education. Is competition for grades worth such prioritising?
How do we identify the different talents of our students upfront and get them into the right educational trajectories? How do we identify potential for different professions and tailor the curriculum to reflect those passions? Should grading not be continuous instead of “putting all eggs in one basket”, so to speak?
Should students not be graded on how they perform over the entire period of four years? Is the system of grading currently being applied not consigning many students to dead ends in their life pursuits?
Albert Einstein — considered the most influential physicist — once said: “Everybody is a genius. “But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.” Einstein failed his polytechnic school examinations. He passed mathematics and science but failed in history, languages and geography. We know he went on to change the world.
This got me thinking. What will happen to children who, for instance, are artistically inclined?
We should put value to self-education since we seem to have killed free quality public education, and opted for private education. History records examples of self-taught individuals who were brilliant: Malcolm X and Mao Zedong come to mind.
In my field, photojournalism, my mentors, Mohamed Amin and Sir Mohinder Dhillon, were both self-educated. President Moi never went to any university but was nicknamed “the Professor of Politics” by the professors he outsmarted!
My grandparents fought for Kenya’s independence although they were not formally educated.
They however knew what injustice was and were ready to die fighting for justice. Before we were colonised, our ancestors ran this part of the world without western education. The idea that passing or failing high school examination is the sole proof of how smart one is, is in my view plainly ridiculous.
Personally, I got unexpected marks even in subjects that I am well versed in. Fortunately, the overall grade I got will not affect my life the way it will an 18-year-old student who wrote that examination and failed. However, if grades could predict how good or bad a person would turn out, I would share mine, but they don’t.
At any rate, no one knows what our political leaders scored in their high school examinations. The score does not matter.
Some of the people looting this country are well educated, suggesting the limitations of our education. Many honest people I have met have not had formal education and their moral compass is intact.
Great talents are not born in the houses of the rich only. They are born in the houses of the poor, too. Education has to be a leveller that gives opportunities to all.