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Can we solve the KCPE problem by abolishing ranking?

If every time you measure something, a problem is revealed
you can solve that problem by stopping the measuring,
like a Kenyan
The Kenya Certificate of Primary Education results are out. For the first time in the history of KCPE, we will not rank schools. It demeans children and forever scars them when we make them compete against each other, or so we think.

The purpose of an education is to impart knowledge, rather than rank small children.

As usual, we are missing the point, or as I happened to be taught, missing the forest for the trees. Why?

Well, I'll agree with you that perhaps we should not rank children, as this may not serve a lot of purpose, besides that of blowing horns, or as some people said, tossing our children around like potatoes.

It should not escape us though, that even with no outright ranking, KCPE candidates will still be ranked, like Kenyan coffee. The top performers will go to the good schools, the national and provincial schools. At the bottom, the "poor performers", about 200,000 of the 800,000 who sat for KCPE, will be discarded as waste. That's our Kenyan system as it is today.

So while we don't officially rank students, we still do so eventually. We can only escape this by building enough secondary schools to absorb all KCPE candidates, and by ensuring they are not just schools, but they equally have access to teachers, teaching materials and especially well stocked laboratories.



Back from digressing, to the ranking of primary schools.

Without ranking primary schools, the public has no measure of how these schools perform.

Previously, good performing private-run schools have been rewarded by parents who flock to these schools, ready to pay top dollar (cliche) to enroll their students in these schools. Such schools also game the system by having two exam centres, with poor performing students enrolled in different exam centres, so as not to lower the mean of the top performing school.

I went to one such "academy". Some of my classmates sat for their  their KCPE in a nearby government run school. Some parents took matters into their own hands. They registered their average performing students in neighbouring administrative districts. See, Nyandarua district (now county) has a high number of good performing private and government schools.

Secondary schools use a quota system to enrol students. The best secondary schools pick the best students from each district, like cherry picking coffee berries. Once they have had their fill, they allow those under them to take their pick, and on and on.

The less desirable a school is, the lesser performing a lot it has to pick from.

So to increase the chance of your child going to a good school, let them sit for KCPE in the neighbouring, less competitive Samburu district or Laikipia district.

Sorry, I digressed again. Being a great tour guide, I have to take you round the mountain before bringing you to the peak.

Without a way of measuring how schools perform, we cannot see the underperforming schools. If we cannot tell which schools underperform, we have a lesser incentive of fixing or questioning the underperformance.

The Ministry of Education can still compare and rank schools to see such patterns, however, it is no longer under pressure from the public.

To the public, it is no longer outright evident, for example, that private run schools are outperforming public ones, or that schools in Wajir are being outranked by schools from Nyandarua. The government is under less pressure to even  out the quality of education, such that even if we did rank schools, the difference in performance is unlike the current one of day and night.

By abolishing ranking, we are simply sweeping dirt under the few carpets we own.

Furthermore, the incentives to rank schools are still there, seeing that parents will be rewarded by taking their children to better performing schools.

See the problem? Great, now turn till you no longer see the problem. See, the problem has now gone away by itself, or so, we lie to ourselves.

If the rewards are high, or restricted to a few, people will always game the system. It's human nature. Guarantee every Kenyan student proper education to university, and perhaps people will no longer be interested in which school ranked first.







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