Over the past few weeks, our eighth grade students at KCE I have been preparing to take the annual Kenya Certificate Of Primary Education (KCPE) exam. Taken at the end of primary school (K-8 in Kenya), it serves as a placement test to determine what secondary schools students will attend.
The placement qualifications are on a scale. Students who score highest on the KCPE exam are placed in national public schools, which receive the most funding and resources from the government. Making up just 10% of total schools in Kenya, national public schools are highly coveted and selective. Average scoring students are placed in less selective county or sub-county/district level schools, and below-average scoring students are typically placed in “Harambee” schools. Harambee schools do not receive full funding from the Kenyan government so they are supported by local communities and thus are typically under-resourced. This year, a rehearsal exam will occur on March 19, prior to the KCPE test. The following week, the official exam will be taken over the course of three days, from March 22-24, and will be supervised by the Kenya National Examination Council (KNEC).
Earlier this month, a prayer day was held for our KCE I exam candidates. The prayer day is an annual ceremony where stakeholders including parents, teachers, local community and religious leaders, and students come together to give prayers and well-wishes to exam candidates. It is a colorful and exciting celebration that includes singing, dancing, poetry performances, candle lighting, and cake cutting.
Across the country, teachers are worried that students will perform lower than average on this year’s KCPE exam as a result of the pandemic. With schools closed for nearly 10 months, learning opportunities and resources were significantly limited, particularly in rural and marginalized communities where distance learning options were nearly nonexistent. Sadly, lost learning isn’t the only challenge this year’s exam candidates are facing. For many children, including our students at KCE I and II, school is a safe space away from unsupportive and/or unsafe home environments. It is also often the only place they’re able to receive regular and nutritious meals. Having been away from school for such an extended period under these conditions, many students are returning with both physical and psychosocial challenges and trauma that require immediate attention. Kenya has also seen an unprecedented rise in unintended adolescent pregnancy during the pandemic, with rates at 22%, meaning many students now have even less time to study with the added burden of child care.
When schools reopened, practice examinations took place in order for the KNEC to assess the current state of students across the nation. Unfortunately, the results of these test scores were concerning, with particularly low performance in the languages and mathematics sections. Yet Kenya’s Cabinet Secretary of Education, Professor George Magoha, has stated that the government is well aware of the struggles that students are facing as a result of the pandemic and suggested that the exams may even be modified to accommodate these unique conditions.
At Kakenya’s Dream, our teachers are going above and beyond to make sure students feel prepared for their exams, undeterred by the current challenges. One of our eighth grade students, Valerie, feels hopeful and says, “Since we came back to school, I have been focusing on my studies to achieve my target mark, participating in teamwork, and cooperating with the teachers who’ve been devoting extra time during the remedial lessons to ensure that we can catch up on learning. I am optimistic that I will achieve my target mark on the exam.” Vivian, who is also getting ready to take the upcoming exam, told us, “I feel really prepared for my examinations despite the changes that were caused by the COVID-19 pandemic last year leading to indefinite school closure. I thank our teachers who have been so helpful in ensuring that we understand what we are being taught and fully prepare for the national examination.”
Within the next few years, the process for national examinations is due to change. Under the new Competency-Based Curriculum (CBC), primary school students will take five national assessments, and another eight national assessments will take place in secondary school. This means that under the new curriculum, a single examination will no longer be the only determining factor for a student’s placement into secondary school as well as university. Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta called this new curriculum a “turning point” and said, “This is a system that brings about freedom as opposed to conformity and this is the promise of the CBC.” Although these changes will eventually affect our students at Kakenya’s Dream, they will not yet be implemented in this year’s examinations.
Through specialized lessons and practice assessments, our teachers have done everything in their power to make up for time lost during the school closure. Calvin Okello, a KCE I social studies teacher, says, “We believe in our girls because, during this period of preparation, we have seen the progress that they have made. Now, they are getting higher mean scores which is a good sign and once the KCPE exam comes, they will most likely do even better.” We wish our girls the best of luck on their exams and feel confident that our dedicated teachers have successfully prepared them for this momentous event!