Ezekiel Machogu

Education Cabinet Secretary Ezekiel Machogu fields questions from members of the Senate at Parliament Buildings in Nairobi on August 9, 2023. 

| Dennis Onsongo | Nation Media Group

How tenderpreneurs messed up KCPE for mega bucks

What you need to know:

  • The exam mess began when the government abruptly stopped the exam printing contract with UK printing firm Stephen Austin Printing Limited.
  • Mr Odinga said the task force should investigate the circumstances under which the printing of exams was transferred from the UK to the Mombasa Road firm
  • Exacerbating the mess, was the decision by the government to take away the contract for relaying the results to the public using the shortcode 40054 from the original provider.

Azimio la Umoja One Kenya leader Raila Odinga on Wednesday, December 6, claimed that a multi-billion exam printing tender war was at the centre of the alleged discrepancies in the 2023 Kenya Certificate of Primary Education (KCPE) examinations results.

Mr Odinga called for the establishment of a special task force to conduct comprehensive investigations into the examinations controversy.

According to Mr Odinga, the tender war pitted senior officials in the Ministry of Education against each other, before the tender was taken over by an official much higher in government.

Speaking to journalists on Wednesday at the Jaramogi Oginga Odinga Foundation offices in Nairobi, Mr Odinga said the buck stops with President William. He alleged that the mess began when President Ruto’s government abruptly stopped the exam printing contract with United Kingdom printing firm Stephen Austin Printing Limited. The security printing firm has printed exams for Kenya since 2016.

After the cancellation of the contract on short notice, the ODM leader claimed that the tender was then awarded to a politically correct local company based on Mombasa Road, Nairobi despite advice that the company did not have the capacity, as it could not print the exams and also ensure its security and integrity, especially on such a short notice.

However, he said that the government did not heed the word of caution as there were allegedly kickbacks involved.

According to Mr Odinga, the Mombasa Road-based firm then outsourced the exam printing services from a company based in India, where the exams were printed in a hurry.

He added that the UK firm whose contract was cancelled declined to provide codes to the many layers of security that had been encrypted to safeguard the integrity of both KCPE and KCSE.

“We can today disclose that the mess in KCPE started as a tender war pitting various senior officials in the Ministry of Education against each other before eventually being taken over by an official much higher in government,” said Mr Odinga.

“We believe this process, of sudden change of printer and having them printed on short notice are responsible for the disaster we have witnessed concerning KCPE,” he added.

Exacerbating the mess, said the former premier, was the decision by the government to take away the contract for relaying the results to the public using the shortcode 40054 from the original provider and awarded on short notice to a company that cannot handle the same.

He argued that the move led to the mess where the results received using the short code were different from the ones on the Kenya National Examination Council (Knec) portal and sent to schools.

Mr Odinga said the rot saw KCPE candidates get graded for subjects they never sat for with the worst case seeing an entire class score the same grades in science in one school.

The debacle led to misalignment of marks and grades where grades in Science and Social Studies as well as Religious Studies were truncated.

Consequently, for the first time in the country, Mr Odinga said, some children are in court, seeking to establish their true grades.

“This was a mess caused by the government. It is a sorry state of affairs and we want to get to the bottom of the matter on how it was conceived, who were involved and who were the beneficiaries so that it does not recur in the future,” said the ODM leader.

“The hunt for quick money has now taken the Kenya Kwanza tenderpreneurs from petroleum products and edible oils to exams. It has messed up the 2023 KCPE and will likely find its way into KCSE whose marking is currently underway in a tense and uncertain environment,” he added.

The Opposition chief said Kenya has over the decades had a reputation of a credible education system with credible examinations and certificates but the reputation is under serious threat.

To avert the reputation being eroded, he said the Opposition has written to key education stakeholders for a partnership to secure and defend the integrity of Kenyan exams and the certification.

The 13 organisations include the Catholic Bishops Conference, the National Council of Churches of Kenya, the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission and the Directorate of Criminal Investigations, among others.

“It is our position that the stakeholders come together, headed by the Catholic Church, or any other group that stakeholders can agree on and get to the bottom of the mess building up in our exam management,” he said.

Mr Odinga said the task force should investigate the circumstances under which the printing of exams was transferred from the UK to the Mombasa Road firm as well as the cost of the termination of the contract with the UK firm.

He added that the taskforce should investigate and tell Kenyans how the firm to relay KCPE results was identified, whether it is the same one that will relay KCSE results and whether procurement laws were adhered to.

“Kenyans must be informed of how the Mombasa Road firm was identified and awarded the tender and if procurement laws were followed. They must also know how the integrity of the exams were secured during the transfer from the UK to Mombasa Road and later to another printer in Asia,” he said.

Meanwhile, Knec has been urged to establish a robust communication centre to demystify claims made by the public after the 2023 primary school examinations and ensure the running of the National Examinations Tribunal to conduct reviews on complaints raised by candidates after results for national exams are released.

Also, the examinations council was urged to work out ways in which candidates can be getting their results without having to be charged for text messages as has been the case in the previous years.

If implemented, MPs said, these strategies will ease the tension that was felt in the country after numerous parents and candidates protested the recently released KCPE results saying some procedures were not followed resulting in irregularities and inconsistencies in their final marks.

Such was the case for Prudence Shalimba, 13, a former candidate of Mukango Hope Academy whose marks were reviewed upwards from 358 to 409.

This was during a National Assembly Education Committee hearing held at the Knec warehouse offices in Nairobi shortly after the legislators were taken through a tour of the facility by Basic Education Principal Secretary, Belio Kipsang.

The legislators sought to understand the entire process of the marking, validation and release of the 2023 KCPE results which sparked a heated debate by a section of Kenyans who felt they had been done a disservice by the last KCPE to be held in the country.

So bad it was that Kitengela International School moved to court seeking to stop the placement of candidates to secondary school pending determination of their case where they challenged the veracity of the marks awarded to their candidates.

None of the school’s 186 candidates scored 400 marks, with its top candidate scoring 358 marks. The principal urged the council to scrutinise, verify and review “all candidates’ answer scripts and award them the rightful marks”.

The Committee also raised questions on why some candidates, even after paying to be registered for the exams, still did not find themselves registered, effectively locking them out from taking the test that determines their fate to moving to the next level of education.

The Education Committee chairperson, Julius Melly also tasked the PS and Knec to account for the claims made on social media that students in St Matthews Malaba and some in Brainstar Academy in Isiolo scored the same marks in some subjects.

In response to the issue of variation in marks attained by candidates in the national exam compared to their erstwhile tests, PS Kipsang said every exam has its own uniqueness and there could have been factors that affected the candidates while doing the KCPE.

He also added that the Optical Mark Recognition machines, which have the capacity of reading 225 copies per minute, were very accurate with an efficiency rate of 99.9 percent thus guaranteeing a very authentic marking system.

The PS then revealed that they had noted some 1,935 errors arising from the 2023 KCPE and assured Kenyans that the Ministry, alongside KNEC, were actively working on rectifying them adding that time was still on their side to make required adjustments.

“All the results given to candidates are provisional results and not official. The official results are those that will be put in the KCPE certificate. We have up to 60 days to check on the results. Once we put the results in the certificate, we cannot alter it,” he said.

On how Ms Shalimba’s marks increased from 358 to 409, Dr Kipsang said preliminary investigations showed that some marks had not been keyed in the results previously sent to her.

“When composition marks were put in and her marks taken through standardisation formulas which have better weighting, the marks moved from 358 to 409,” he said.

Knec CEO, Dr David Njengere explained that the KCPE has two types of questions; selected response, the multiple choice questions where a student marks the correct answer, and the constructed response, which requires the candidate to generate answers for the question.

“Constructed questions include Insha and composition. The weight of constructed responses is heavier than those of selected responses and this is standard global practice when it comes to standardisation,” he said.

On matters students missing out on exams after paying for registration, PS Kipsang said the responsibility of ensuring all students are duly registered lays squarely on the schools’ headteachers and principals and those who fail to do so are usually taken through disciplinary measures.

PS Kipsang rubbished the claims and said those were falsified results shared online by malicious people and assured the committee that they would table the actual results to the Committee within 24 hours.