205,211 kids

About one million 14-year old kids sat for the Kenya Certificate of Primary Education (KCPE) exam this year. Their scripts were marked and the results released in record time. Of that number – 1,052,364 candidates – 22% of them scored less than 200 marks out of the maximum 500 marks attainable. 236,000 children went through up to 8 years of primary school and, according to these results, were unable to solve foundation-level math and science questions, could not write in English and Kiswahili to an acceptable level, and were unable to think critically enough to score an average of 40% in the exam. This is not an indictment or criticism of the young children. I am certain that most of them tried their very best and I am aware that a 3-day sprint examination is not a fair reflection of 8 years of schooling or the ability or potential of the young students.

This is an indictment of the system.

Despite insistence that all candidates shall transition into secondary school, the data shows that a large number of these young boys and girls will not attend secondary school. Last year the transition rate stood at about 80% and if this is maintained, up to 200,000 students shall not see the inside of a form one class room. It would not be unreasonable to think that those 200,000 thousand students who do not make it to secondary school are most likely among the 236,000 who scored less than 200 marks. For them, it may be the case that this was it. Formal schooling is officially over.

Whereas we can be proud of the speed with which the results of the national exam was released, deep reflection on what those results mean is required. We have done well to increase access to primary school education and the increasing transition to secondary school is commendable. But we must evaluate the value and quality of that education experience.

For the 205,211 young boys and girls who may not make it forward into secondary school next year, what traits, knowledge and skills have been imparted on them that we can be we proud of? Are they empowered enough to actively participate in the economy and society?