Alarm over mass failure in Kenyan high school exam

Monday December 23 2019

Kenya's Education Cabinet Secretary George Magoha releases the 2019 Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education examination results at Mitihani House in the capital Nairobi on December 18, 2019. PHOTO | FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP


More than a third of candidates who sat this year’s Kenyan national examinations for secondary schools failed to attain grades that would allow them to pursue professional courses, including diplomas in teaching and nursing.

This raises questions over the mass failure of Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education (KCSE) exam candidates and the future of those who did not make the cut.

A Nation analysis of the results indicates that a total of 504,415 candidates scored C- and below.

Some 697,222 students sat the examination and 72 per cent of them attained below-average grades, the analysis shows.

Last year, a total of 660,204 candidates sat the examination and almost a third got C- and below.

They, like the more than half a million from this year’s class, went on to join a growing population of secondary school leavers who are either forced to seek low-paying, poorly-funded artisan courses or completely fall off the education system.



Education experts told the Nation on Sunday that the mass failure of students at that level is unacceptable and alarming, and asked the Kenyan government to step in and address the issue that they said was creating an unequal and unfair society.

A total of 29,318 candidates scored Grade E, with a majority of them (17,894) coming from sub-county schools. National schools produced 338 candidates with E grade.

The data further indicates that 101,687 scored D+, 137,713 had D, while 152,339 had D-.

Extra-county schools produced 61 Grade As, county schools did not produce an A, while four As came from sub-county schools and 67 As from private institutions.

A total of 63,102 candidates scored C while 83,358 had C-, which means they can join technical and vocational training colleges, whose capacity is less than 100,000.

Kenya Union of Post-Primary Education (Kuppet) Secretary-General Akelo Misori said the government appears to be focusing on quantity and not quality.

“We have schools that have no basic infrastructure and face teacher shortages, among other challenges,” Mr Misori said, adding that such schools “cannot produce quality education”.


A spot-check revealed that a number of institutions that performed poorly lack basic infrastructure, including laboratories for science subjects, which are critical markers of performance in national exams.

Educationist Andiwo Obondo agreed with Mr Misori, but added that the education system appears to be deliberately elitist as it focuses on and rewards the few candidates who perform well in national exams while ignoring the rest.

“The majority of students with lower grades will be ignored and denied opportunities,” Mr Obondo said.

“Last year, a similar number of students scored D+ and there have been no follow-up surveys to establish where they are, or why they performed so dismally."

To stem the problem, he suggested the equipping and staffing of county and sub-county secondary schools across the county.

This year, the number of candidates who attained the minimum university entry qualification of C+ and above stood at 125,746, compared with 90,377 in the 2018 examination.

Education Cabinet Secretary George Magoha, while releasing the results last week, attributed the increase to recent reforms in the system of administering examinations, which means “candidates have settled down to working hard on their own under the leadership of their teachers”.


But an education official who asked not to be named because he is not allowed to speak to the media said that while there has been an increase in the number of As and Bs, there has also been a worrying number of Ds and Es, which points to inefficiencies and inequalities in the education value chain.

“This unhealthy focus on schools is forcing many to rush to complete the syllabus and issue too many internal examinations at the expense of real learning,” the official said.

The country is currently facing a shortage of about 100,000 teachers, and the Teachers Service Commission (TSC) notes that about 80,000 teachers are employed by boards of management in public primary and secondary schools.

A study by Kuppet, whose results were released last year, indicated that poor performance in national examinations is a precursor to crime and general unhealthy behaviour, and has a bearing on the emotional balance of students, democracy and social cohesion.

The National Assembly’s Education and Research Committee chairman, Mr Julius Melly, said Parliament is alarmed by the performance and asked for capacity building initiatives for teachers.


He advised those who did not qualify to join universities to take advantage of the available technical and vocational training opportunities.

“We have Ksh5 billion ($500 million) to support students in TVETs and, therefore, those who scored low grades should not worry over fees,” Mr Melly said.

But Dr John Mugo, the team leader of Ujana360, a programme of ZiziAfrique Foundation that works with TVET institutions, said the government should first equip the institutions if learners are to get quality training.

Dr Mugo added that there is a need to change the attitude of school leavers towards TVETs to ensure the country gets skilled workers.

“Only 15 per cent of candidates who sit national examinations make it to universities. That means the remaining 85 per cent have to join TVET institutions, hence the need to invest more in them,” he said.