Hope as state moves to digitise varsities to end certificate fraud

Monday, September 26th, 2022 19:16 | By
Hope as state moves to digitise varsities to end certificate fraud
The back image of the graduates wearing a yellow tassel hat. PHOTO/Pexels

During the just concluded General Election, Kenyans were treated to the bizarre drama of universities publicly coming out to disown politicians claiming to have graduated from their institutions in a bid to be cleared to vie for the various political seats.

The ping pong saw dozens of politicians rushing to court seeking orders to avoid being locked out of the polls due after presenting questionable academic papers.

Several political bigwigs, such as current Nairobi County Governor Johnson Sakaja and his Machakos counterpart Wavinya Ndeti and Kiambu County Senator Karungo Thangwa had to go through a lengthy humiliating process to be cleared to vie for respective seats after questions were raised over the validity of their academic certificates.

Sakaja’s woes started after four petitions were filed claiming that he may have acquired his academic papers fraudulently. The University of Nairobi, where Sakaja is alleged to have studied Actuarial Science, told the Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DCI) that he didn’t graduate, forcing him to eat a humble pie and seek another alternative in Uganda.

But that was not the end of Sakaja’s woes as another petitioner, Dennis Gakuyo, moved to court seeking to establish the legitimacy of his purported degree from Team University in Uganda, a process that turned out to be lengthy and both politically and financially draining.

Sakaja was, however, saved by High Court judge Justice Anthony Mrima who dismissed the case on grounds that there was no proof that he had forged his degree from the Ugandan university.

Fragmentation of qualification system

The judge rules that it was not the responsibility of for the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) to verify whether Sakaja had genuine documents or not.

Sakaja, Wavinya, Thangwa and presidential hopeful Walter Mong’are alias Nyambane, whose clearance certificate was revoked by IEBC are just among the millions of cases bordering on the authenticity of academic papers being presented to various employment firms and agencies in Kenya.

Principal Secretary for University Education ambassador Simon Nabukwesi blames the proliferation of fake papers on lack of coherence and the fragmentation of the country’s qualifications system.

Nabukwesi says this has presented scenarios where different institutions offering the same qualifications have different approaches in terms of entry behaviour, volume of learning and learning outcomes. “Very soon, this will be a problem of the past. Just with the press of a button, it will be easier to confirm one’s academic qualifications and background. In about six months time, we shall have a centralised data system for all universities,” Nabukwesi told Scholar.

Whereas the government has formulated the National Education Management Information System (NEMIS) that harnesses a nationwide digital registration of all schools, learners and staff in all primary and secondary schools, nothing is in place for universities.

Education data portal

The Ministry of Education says on its website that NEMIS, which is part of the deliverables of the Global Partnership for Education (GPE) US$88.4 million (Sh10.6 billion) grant, is basically an online portal used for storing education data hence forming a platform to track a school’s and student’s progress, performance and financial reports since the time of registration or over time. “This has been the missing link in university education Kenya. The absence of such a centralised portal has made it quite difficult to track anybody’s academic record or performance at the university level,” Nabukwesi says.

Cases abound where a student at a university, for example, sits for end-of-semester exams but is not graded on some units, because the results vanished into thin air and no one is ready to take the blame.

Statistics available from the Commission for University Education (CUE) indicates about 90 per cent of Kenyan universities have experienced the problem of missing marks and a large number of students fail to graduate as a result of missing marks.

Though most universities in Kenya are considered to be Information and Communications Technology (ICT) hubs, they have been accused of being leading centres of low-scale data management in the country.

But now, courtesy of a joint initiative being spearheaded by Nabukwesi and bringing together CUE, Higher Education Loans Board (HELB), Kenya Universities and Colleges Central Placement Services (KUCCPS), Kenya National Qualifications Authority (KNQA) and Universities Fund (UF), by as early as June next year, all Kenyan universities are expected to be digitally connected.

UF chief executive Geoffrey Monari, who has been one of the brains behind the project, says the agencies are developing a national database for all universities , which will be a one-stop shop for all credentials and qualifications in the country.

Monari says the centralised data system will not only make it easier to track down one’s academic history, but will also enable the government determine which university is preferred in terms of employment, as well as the most popular courses.

The portal will also provide a central source for nationally recognised qualifications awarding institutions, the qualifications that they are mandated to award and the learners that graduate from the system.

Overall, the system will establish a national learners’ database for skills, certifications and test scores. This means that under the automated process, it will be easy to verify a student’s certifications by the click of a button. “This is the trend worldwide. Soon anybody questioning an individual’s academic authenticity will not have to travel the arduous road in courts, but will simply press a button on his or her computer to confirm. Even cases of missing  marks would be a thing of the past,” Monari said in an interview with Scholar.

This, Monari says, would also help the government to decide on the courses to be funded well and weaknesses of universities.

Kenya has over 70 universities, 38 of them public and 35 private. Over 500,000 students were enrolled in the last academic year with public universities taking the lion’s share with over 400,000 of these students.

Monari cites four key benefits that would come with the centralised digital platform for universities as being proper reporting for government planning purposes; decisions would be made based on actual data; artificial intelligence to map out and predict trends in terms of student enrolment and retention; and it would enable the government to implement performance-based funding for universities.

The project that began sometimes last year, is on the final stages and only awaiting the implementation of a firewall (a system in computer installed to prevent hacking).

Level playing ground for job seekers

Local universities still manually keep records of students who studied in their respective institutions, a system that is prone to loss of data, manipulation and manufacture of academic documents.

While the government through agencies such KNQA has been fighting to stamp out fake academic papers to ensure a level playground for job seekers and aspirants for elective positions, monied politicians still find their way to manipulate manually kept data and are thereby able to sneak in their details to facilitate forgery of academic transcripts.

In 2011 the government through the education Ministry created an integration team to coordinate and digitise the education sector.

But the program failed to take off after it faced a wide range of challenges, such as lack of electricity, infrastructure and connectivity. While the training needed was complex, stakeholders said the resources required to deliver it were scarce.

Though Kenya’s universities face huge challenges going digital, they must quickly adapt and become innovative so that they achieve their targets with minimal disruptions.

Brian Ndung’u Gacheru, a long-serving developer says there is an urgent need for a fresh approach to the current teaching and learning models. “Universities can reduce digital disruptions through delivery of interactive content and accessible courses through learning management systems,” he says.

He says universities need to provide effective and efficient digital platforms that support virtual learning.

Finally, the use of basic technology, software and applications, such as WhatsApp, e-mail, Zoom, FaceTime and Blackboard – that allow asynchronous participation and teleconference facilities must be used to improve the e-learning experience.

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