School rankings in Kenya and Uganda: A discussion

School rankings in Kenya and Uganda: A discussion

by Peter Irungu

The decision by Kenya’s Ministry of Education to stop the ranking of students and schools based on examination results is an area of contention among teachers, students and parents, both in favor and opposed to the policy change. In a circular sent to head teachers and other education stakeholders November 24th, the ministry argued that ranking does not enrich the country’s education system. Prof Jacob Kaimenyi said the ministry dropped the ranking of schools and pupils because the grade a student earns on the final national examination does not give a definitive assessment of the academic learning process.

“Some schools are better equipped with training aids and infrastructure than others”, he said, “and it makes no sense to compare them with schools that lack those same resources.”

Kaimenyi said the disadvantages of ranking schools and students far outweigh the merits, and urged those opposed to the no-ranking policy to support the ministry in its endeavor to standardize educational outcomes for all public and private school pupils.

It appears that Kenya has decided to emulate Rwanda and Uganda by doing away with the ranking of students and schools using results from the national examinations. It is argued that these rankings tend to create unhealthy competition as schools direct all their resources to helping students pass exams sometimes even applying underhand methods to achieve this. The argument is quite solid but I think it masks the real problems of our education systems. In the first place these moves by Kenya or Rwanda do not take away the choice for private schools to advertise their results so as to woo parents before schools resume.

And we should not forget that with students sitting the same exam, there is already competition enough for which they would want bragging rights as a school or individual student. My take would therefore be that instead of focusing on competition at the final exam, we could achieve more by diversifying competition in schools. What if we chose to highlight performance in other different aspects? I would love to see the schools/students bragging about sports exploits, debating skills, arts and music.

We need to advance to a level where a student who wishes to develop their singing talent or football talent can easily tell which schools are best suited for this. Schools should be about so much more than the two or three hour exams at the end of the year. Of course some people already know these schools but we could do more to lessen the importance attached to the ‘do or die’ exams. Schools should be about values, knowledge and skills. And a student who attends a school should harvest some of these whether or not they pass the final examination.

Teacher’s shortage still a challenge

Kenya National Union of Teachers (KNUT) Secretary General Wilson Sossion said the ranking system has served the country well for years and criticized the government for authorizing its removal.

Rather than banning the ranking system, he said, the government should have addressed the shortcomings in the current system in order to effect reforms

Those supporting the ban say it will bring an end to negative competition in education.

Some schools, especially private ones, have been engaging in unethical practices such as forcing academically weak candidates to repeat classes so that they may post good marks in final examinations.

One parent observed It is for the good of education and candidates that ranking has been abolished because schools will cease unscrupulous practices such as registering their brightest candidates at one examination center and the others at another.

Kenya Secondary Schools Heads Association chairperson John Awiti said ranking schools gives them leeway to market themselves as premier institutions, which they use to fleece parents by charging exorbitant school. The ranking ban will bring an end to unfair practices by private school owners and head teachers.

The Uganda experience

The Kenyan Government, however, might learn from Uganda on this one. Embarrassed by the fact that only a handful of schools were topping the list all the time and whole districts were not getting first-grade passes, President Yoweri Museveni’s government also scrapped school ranking.

However, it was alive to the political risks because the issue was not just those schools in whole parts of the country were doing badly, but that students from some ethnic groups were not getting into the top rank.

It solved that problem by allowing the ranking of the best students. The ban on ranking lowered the cost of business for private schools and increased their profits because now they spent less on things like advertising.

A survey conducted by Observer Newspaper in Uganda shows Parents who pay more in tuition fees are getting their money’s worth in good results at the end of the primary school cycle.And the fees are likely to go higher. The eagerness of parents to shower money on the education of their children was first highlighted by a preliminary report by the ministry of Finance. The report found that the majority of Ugandans spend most of their money on education.

They could afford to because the other effect of the ranking ban was that many parents now believed that the public school system was so bad, the government was ashamed of putting it on show. It is strange how things usually turn out.

The ultimate school corruption however revolves around public examinations, the gullible public’s yardstick for judging the quality of a school’s education. Some schools do not register their weak students under the school’s official centre, so that only the sure high performers appear on the school’s official results. The poor weak ones are registered under some Centre B.  Uganda National Examinations Board (UNEB) therefore declares “truthfully” that ninety-something per cent of the school’s candidates passed in Division One.

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