Last week marked the start of a fortnight that every Kenyan high highschool student looks forward to and dreads in equal measure. For the next two-weeks, form fours (grade 12s), will be sitting for the Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education, (KCSE) which is the mandatory final step to graduating high school. It doesn’t matter if you were at the top or bottom of your class for the last 4 years. The KCSE is in is the only relevant yardstick that counts in regard to ones college potential. In the Kenyan system, students don’t write application essays for college nor does their participation in sports and other co-curricular activities count. Only the KCSE results!
Clearly, this is one exam whose importance can hardly be overstated. For majority of the candidates, it will be the decisive dice that determines their status in life forever. Who will become a doctor, pilot Engineer teacher and any of the many of the “good” professions society, and the pursuit for stability inevitably forces on students. Those that make the cut will be guaranteed access to a university education sponsored by the government so they will pay very little in terms of school fees. However, there are only so many university places and only about a quarter of the hundreds of thousand students sitting the exams will secure these. The options for everyone else will be considerably grim if they cannot afford to pay for tuition in expensive private universities or self-sponsor in public ones. Unsurprisingly, the competition is usually brutal, forcing students into spartan tactics such as waking up at 3: AM even though they went to bed past midnight with the hopes of keeping ahead.
Tension is high in the country both for the students and school administrators. In the backdrop form a 5 week, long teachers’ strike, there has been less than enough time for final preparations. In addition, the country is expecting El Nino rains whose deluge portends a plethora of logistic challenges including transporting the exam papers, that have to be delivered to schools every morning. Tomorrow as they sit to answer questions on their English Paper I and II, innumerable prayers will be uttered and wishes muttered. Everyone is focused on the prize with the hope of applying what they have learnt in the four years of high school in this all-important exam. It is a great deal of pressure but we have the greatest confidence in our sponsored students and their colleagues from our various sister schools.
By Ian Mungai