Increased Es in KCSE blamed on 100 per cent transition policy
The high number of the lowest grade E in the recently released Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education (KCSE) results has rekindled debate among education stakeholders on the significance of the 100 per cent primary to secondary school transition policy, which is now in its sixth year.
The policy is one of Jubilee Government’s success stories that has gained traction because of taming the annual haemorrhage of the Kenya Certificate of Primary Education (KCPE) candidates unable to secure admission to secondary school due to their low points.
Players rooting for 100 per cent transition have argued secondary school education’s benefits go beyond attaining a formal education, such as contributing to the reduction of HIV infection among girls, as they are able to delay becoming sexually active and avoid early marriages, reduction of poverty among girls and enhances their chances of employment, reduction of crime among youth, among other benefits.
However, some critics of the policy are stoking divisions on the actual value gained from the huge government investment.
They say forcing students to join high school with poor grades could ultimately be the reason most of them are ending up with the E grade in KCSE.
“While the100 per cent transition may reduce crime, other vices and population growth by keeping millions of young people busy, societal problems that were dealt with by the public, including the police, now end up in schools, and some schools and teachers are not prepared for that. Case in point, the increase of arson attacks in schools,” says a secondary school headteacher in Nyeri county.
He explains that some problems persist irrespective of the transition rate going up, arguing that below-average students find school meaningless, because what’s taught is way above their intellectual capacity.
The Kenya National Qualification Authority (KNQA), a national body mandated to promote globally recognised and competitive qualifications, as well as determine course entry requirements, classifies the KCSE E grade alongside a KCPE certificate or Grade Six report card.
A highlight of minimum admission requirements for listed courses found on the KNQA portal shows a KCSE graduate with an E grade is no more than a Standard Eight or a Grade Six graduate.
The KCSE candidate can begin his training at KNQA Level Three, which reveals his training level as that of National Skill Certificate II Government Trade Test II or National Vocational Certificate II.
Waste of resources
Standard Eight or Grade Six graduates can also be admitted into the course if he demonstrates application of knowledge and skills in applied areas.
Anthony Mutevani a programme officer with African Canadian Continuing Education Society (ACCES Kenya), a civil society organisation questions the rationale of spending resources on a student whose career pathway is already defined.
He argues that the 100 per cent transition policy delays children who are endowed-psychomotor from charting their career pathways early enough by keeping weak students in class against their will to do what they might like most. He observed, “For four years, the government pays Sh22,000 as tuition fees capitation annually for each learner in public secondary school and on graduation, it’s perhaps that E grade that drives you back to a level of a primary school graduate in a village polytechnic. That was a waste of time and resources.”
He said the government should invest some of the resources meant for the 100 per cent transition to secondary school into infrastructure development in county polytechnics as an alternative path for talented children that cuts on time wastage in secondary school.
“When you review the 2021 KCSE performance, you discover that 46 per cent of the candidates scored D (plain) and below. This grade is just enough to enroll one into a trade test course at a village polytechnic, the same as a primary school graduate,” he explains.
The 2021 KCSE recorded some of the highest basement grades of D (plain), D (minus) and Es in the history of the exam with a majority of the 388,000 candidates drawn from the sub-county schools (day schools).
A total of 187,264 candidates scored D-(minus) to emerge as a grade with the highest number of students in the 2021 class. The crème de la crème of the 2021 KCSE class was shared between 789 males and 349 females mainly drawn from national and extra-county schools.
The A students represented just 0.14 per cent of the total candidates in 2021 and only 18 per cent (145,145) attained the minimum university grade C+ (plus).
The KCSE 2021 results report released by education CS Prof George Magoha showed a significant 39.27 per cent of the candidate’s would be absorbed into diploma and certificate courses in TVET institutions.
The Kakamega county coordinator of Elimu yetu Coalition Nicholas Anyangu, however, differs with Mutevani. “Basic education is compulsory in Kenya according to our constitution,” he explains.
He says the 100 per cent transition allows children to grow up in school as most KCPE candidates are minors below 15 years old. He says the four year O-level course allows learners to mature before transiting to college.
“Certificate courses take only two years to complete. If a student was 14 years old in Standard Eight and goes straight to a village polytechnic, he will be just 16 years when he graduates. He cannot be employed because the labour laws forbid,” he observed.
He also dismisses insensitive reports that sub-county schools contributed the bulk of KCSE basement grades. “We must get to the root cause of the problem. Is it weak students or weak management systems and poor infrastructure in the intuitions,” he poses.
Comments from a cross section of principals of sub-county schools interviewed on the poor grades on condition that their identity is not revealed had a common denominator: That of admitting weak KCPE candidates mostly from poor backgrounds from whom they struggle with to extract good results.
Bishop Nicholas Olumasai, a board of management member in one of the sub-county schools in Kakamega says there is a need to review the policy to accommodate students keen to pursue skills training upon graduating from primary school.
He says, “Those of us in the management in this category of schools are not embarrassed of the poor performances. We admit relatively weaker students and we are proud of our results.