Education International
Education International

Kenya: teachers under threat over exam results

published 12 January 2012 updated 16 January 2012

The Kenya National Union of Teachers (KNUT), one of EI’s national affiliates, has condemned the surge of violence against teachers following the release of the results for the national Kenya Certificate of Primary Education examinations (KCPE).

In the days following the issuing of the results in late December 2011, reports emerged of parents threatening, assaulting, and chasing teachers away from schools that performed poorly. Several teachers are in the hospital with serious injuries. A number of schools across the country have closed down. While respecting the rights of parents to express their dissatisfaction with the outcome of the examinations violence against individual teachers is not a legitimate or acceptable response.

KNUT General Secretary, David Okuta Osiany, called on the police to protect headmasters and teachers. He said that the behaviour by some irate parents had been “barbaric.”

“When parents go to schools with guns and sticks to beat teachers, that means there must be some security measures set up to protect the educators,” Osiany highlighted. “As public servants, educators’ security must be ensured. Schools have become insecure places when the test results are out and parents are dissatisfied with them.” He pointed out that there are many reasons why students fail examinations which are not related to the work of the teachers.

Each year, individual students, schools, and counties are ranked according to marks students scored on the exams. Students with top marks are eligible to enter national secondary schools, which have the highest-quality educational facilities. Lower-scoring students can enrol in provincial schools, while the lowest scorers are eligible for resource-poor district schools.

Osiany criticised the educational system: “We do not want schools to be ranked. Schools should have adequate facilities and be able to follow the same curricula everywhere. But the provision of facilities is not equitable and it is not possible to provide the same quality of service in such circumstances. In remote areas, you find schools which have never even seen a laboratory.”

He also explained this system puts too much pressure on teachers and students, pressure that at times proves deadly. Since the release of the results, Kenyan media reported that one headmaster and two students committed suicide, allegedly because of the exams.

Police in Narok County confirmed sadly that the Kalyet Primary School’s headmaster, Geoffrey Kiplang'at Sigei, had taken his life after the school's results were cancelled by the Kenya National Examinations Council over irregularities. Before he committed suicide, Kiplang'at Sigei had gone into hiding after learning that all his 38 candidates had failed to obtain their results since their English and Kiswahili scores were cancelled.

In another explosion of violence, angry parents of Matioli Primary School stormed the school and attacked the headmaster, Juma Shirovere. The incident disrupted learning at the school for the rest of the day.

However, Area Education Officer, Luke Chebet, defended school teachers, and instead blamed parents for failing to cooperate with teachers. He explained Matioli Primary School had performed poorly because parents had failed to ensure that their children attended classes.

Chebet said: “The class eight pupils had only appeared in the school to register as KCPE examination candidates early in the year and disappeared, only to resurface two days prior to the examination.”

At the Makamini Primary School, the headmaster, Seif Ngao Gonzi, was attacked by parents accusing him of contributing to the school's bad performance.

Gonzi blamed the poor attitude by parents and shortage of teachers for the bad results, deploring the fact that the school had only six teachers for 700 students. He also mentioned early marriages and pregnancies among girls: on the last day of the KCPE examination, two pupils officially legalised their marriages; and five girls, four of them KCPE candidates, got pregnant during the year.

Cheating is another cause of concerns for educators in terms of exam outcomes. In last year's KCPE, 334 exam stations reported cheating. Some 7,974 candidates out of the 776,214 who took the examination had their results cancelled, the worst cheating record in the history of KCPE.

KNUT indicated it would write to the national Teachers Service Commission, urging it to ensure educators’ safety. It reiterated teachers should not be considered the solely responsible for students’ failure in a national exam.

The union also declared it will soon commission a study on the parents’ involvement and responsibilities in education.

KNUT General Secretary requested parents, school committees and the entire community to take responsibility when their schools perform poorly: “Why should the teachers bear the brunt of the failure when everyone is involved?”

The Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga has also condemned attacks on teachers over the KCPE results. He said teachers should be treated with dignity and that other parties in the education sector including the Teachers Service Commission, the Ministry of Education, and the students themselves also have a role to play.

EI Africa region Chief Coordinator, Assibi Napoe, stated: “EI condemns violence against teachers. It reaffirms violence never was and never will be a solution to conflicts and problems faced by societies. Quality Education is!”

She urged parents to work closely together with education staff, including headmasters, to guarantee their children quality education. She further called on Kenyan authorities to ensure educators and students’ security. She added that the Education Ministry must, together with unions, change this unfair assessment system.

YouTube video of a Kenyan headmaster's violent eviction: