Centre Managers pick afternoon session exams

Centre Managers collect afternoon session exams at the Kisumu Central Deputy County Commissioner’s offices on November 8, 2023.

| Ondari Ogega | Nation Media Group

Revealed: The dirty tricks of KCSE cheating cartels

What you need to know:

  • Various agencies within the Education sector are battling realtime complex web of hacks determined to beat the system.
  • Suspects already in custody include school principals, teachers, university students, and administrators pf social media accounts.

Officers from the Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DCI) have been busy these past two weeks tracking suspects involved in a complex web of fraud and attempts to compromise the integrity of national examinations.

As a result, dozens of people have been arrested and some have already been arraigned on various charges related to malpractices in the ongoing Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education (KCSE) examinations. The suspects include principals, teachers, university students and administrators of social media accounts suspected of perpetuating the vice.

The multipronged operation also involves the Kenya National Examinations Council (Knec), and the Information and Interior ministries.

The Sunday Nation has been tracking the cases and also some of the channels used by the cheats to understand their methods of operation and why students, teachers and parents fall for their tricks and part with their money.

The arrest of four suspects last year lifted a lid on dirty tricks by criminals to lure their victims into their trap.

The police recovered mobile phones, SIM cards and identity cards used to register multiple mobile money and bank accounts to receive money from students and parents.

An undisclosed amount of money which was said to run into millions of shillings was frozen in their illegitimate accounts. One of the suspects was also said to have been putting up a posh house using proceeds from the illicit enterprise.

Telegram, a mobile phone messaging application, is widely used for malpractices by scammers while a few prefer WhatsApp.

The Telegram groups are set as a one-way chat that can accommodate thousands of members who are only able to read messages from the administrator. 

After being targeted by the DCI, the administrators are now asking users to use a Virtual Private Network (VPN) to access the platform under the radar of security surveillance and even the internet service providers. VPN is a protected network that encrypts internet traffic and hides the user’s identity, making it difficult for third parties to track their activities online.

“The Kenya government shuts Telegram during exams time. So a VPN changes your location to e.g. United States. That’s how you’ll access my papers,” an administrator of a Telegram channel advises the subscribers on one of the pages.

Last week, Telegram experienced downtime on various internet service providers when the examinations were in progress, with users pointing an accusing finger at the communications regulator.

One of the most notorious groups on the platform has more than 56,000 subscribers. The administrators promise to send exam papers to only those who pay before the time set for the test. They are brash and arrogant in a bid to convince subscribers that they have access to genuine papers. They describe themselves as “a senior examiner from Knec for over 15 years. All administrators here have access to the Knec portal and grade changing”.

Other descriptions of administrators of various sites include “Knec insider” and “ICT Knec”. The scammers offer various packages ranging from Sh1,500 to Sh20,000.

“Tomorrow’s papers bookings ongoing. Papers will be sent at exactly 4.00am. Confirmed (to those who have paid). Leakages are illegal and there are no free papers. If you still doubt, just revise your class notes. You will pass,” reads one message sent at midnight on November 14.

“20 minutes left I post the papers then sleep. Book now. Don’t come to my DM if you have trust issues. My work is clear here. You’ll be ignored,” reads another sent at 3.40am probably to create a sense of urgency in the targets to send the money.

The next message is sent at 17.07pm. It is accompanied by attachments of images of the papers sat during the day. However, the administrator cleverly superimposes a time stamp to indicate that the images were sent at 4.03am and had been accessed by 345 people.

“I can assure you, with absolute confidence, there’s no single genuine paper that can circulate on those social media platforms [beforehand]. Those fellows will collude with somebody somewhere and they will look for an image of that paper which is being done and share it on Telegram. We’re working with the Ministry of ICT and all those cases have been neutered, so there’s no effect,” says Dr David Njeng’ere, the CEO of Knec.

Apart from the promise of supplying the question papers, the scammers also promise to sell answers to the questions at an extra fee. To convince their targets that they have access to the papers, they post handwritten answers for the papers done during the day as proof.

However, malpractices have also been reported where some principals and teachers collude to assist candidates cheat in the exams. According to a DCI officer who spoke to Sunday Nation, several people are involved in the scheme.

These include some supervisors, invigilators and even support staff in schools. In one incident reported by police, a watchman at a school was found in possession of a phone that contained examination material.

So far, there have been no reported cases of candidates having access to examination papers before the date of the examination.

The papers are stored in 576 containers spread across the country. Each container has a double locking system where one key is kept by the deputy county commissioner while the sub-county director of education keeps the other one. On the day of the examination, the papers are collected by principals who act as the centre managers during the examination period. Each one of them is accompanied back to school by armed security.

The officials are transported to school by either government vehicles or vehicles hired by the government. Private vehicles are not allowed to transport examination materials. Usually, principals of schools that are in close proximity of each other are transported in the same vehicles.

When the papers are opened and given to candidates, the crooked officials take photos of or photocopy the extra copy which is then sent to the subject teacher or someone else in the racket to quickly work out the answers as the examination goes on.

The police have discovered that images of the question paper and the answers are then sent via WhatsApp to targeted candidates or schools who sneak mobile phones into the examination rooms.

To reduce cases of early exposure to examination materials, Knec this year introduced the collection of papers in the morning and in the afternoon after it was realised some principals could open the second paper earlier than permitted.

“Even the packaging has been changed. In case one opens the packet early, it’s impossible to re-seal it. They are also rotating us every week. Last week I was supervising in another school before being brought here. Next week I’ll be elsewhere. We have to file daily reports both online and hard copy,” a supervisor working in Nairobi told Sunday Nation.

Some schools have been busted photocopying the answers with the intention of sneaking back to the candidates. Cases of unathorised materials in the examination room have also been reported.

“A candidate came from the toilet with examination answers in a paper and passed the same to a fellow student. An invigilator confiscated the written material and handed it over to the supervisor who confirmed it to be the answers for the then-ongoing exams.

A search was immediately conducted in the school compound and a Kiswahili/geography teacher in the same school was found with a phone, with the same information on WhatsApp. The information was seen to have been shared with a fellow teacher who is at large,” reads a police report seen by Sunday Nation.

A senior official told Sunday Nation that some principals and teachers share the confidential documents they are given in advance in order to procure items and equipment required for science practicals. The documents, however, do not contain the actual questions.

With the KCSE examinations coming to an end this week, the cheating cartels appear to be already planning for next year and sleeker ways of beating the authorities.

“Next year, we’ll also be accepting cryptocurrency for payments,” reads a message on one of the accounts.