EDITORIAL: Change badly needed to end exam cheating

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The safeguards put in place to curb cheating have seen the Form Four examinations, which started in earnest this week, run smoothly.

However, several incidents have been reported of attempted cheating. More than 30 suspects have been arrested and a number charged in court over exam cheating, and the crackdown continues.

Whereas in the past, cheating was planned and executed by cartels with tentacles in the Kenya National Examinations Council headquarters, who then shared the scripts digitally across the country, the fraudsters have changed tack.

This time round, they are working in cahoots with some school principals, supervisors and invigilators to get the papers earlier, work out the answers and share them with the candidates.

As we have warned before, those who thrived on exam cheating have not tired. They simply went underground when the government introduced stringent controls two years ago.

But they have been plotting to circumvent the system and get their way. The most unfortunate thing is that the plot involves teachers and even some parents.

Instead of teaching properly and adequately preparing candidates for exams, some teachers only scheme for shortcuts.

Yet, when taught and guided properly, the learners can easily pass the exams. But what obtains is that we have evolved a cheating culture; a predisposition to get things the easy way, which can no longer work.

Education ministry and exam council officials must think of a more sustainable system of examining candidates.

It is not right that the entire government, starting from the President and, Deputy President, Cabinet and principal secretaries, must get involved in exam monitoring.

This is not sustainable. It does not happen anywhere else in the world. Exam administration is a professional assignment best left to experts.

As currently configured, exams are a deceptive parameter for gauging learners’ abilities. It is a misnomer that candidates have to sit exams at the end of the school cycle — primary or secondary — and using that single test, determine a learner’s capability.

It is this contraction of learning into a single and time-bound test that spawns the cheating.

Conversely, it is critical that we revise and totally change the format of testing learners, de-emphasising grades and instead, prioritising competences and demonstration of ability to apply learnt knowledge.

In the interim, all efforts and energies go into preventing exam theft and those caught must be severely punished.

But we need a long-lasting and more sustainable system of testing learners beyond the summative assessments.

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