News / Africa

School Rankings in Kenya Lead Teachers to Seek Protection

The head of Kenya's national teachers union has called for police to protect headmasters and teachers, following a series of attacks by parents over the results of national primary school exams.  

David Okuta Osiany, secretary-general of the Kenya National Union of Teachers, says the behavior by irate parents has become “barbaric.”

“When they go there with guns and goons to beat teachers and frog march them, that means there must be some security for the teachers," he said. "The teachers must be provided with the security as government servants.  They are working in insecure places, particularly when the results are out.”

Results for the national Kenya Certificate of Primary Education examinations were released with great fanfare near the end of December.  Each year, individual students, schools, and counties are ranked according to marks students scored on the exams.

Students with top marks are eligible to enter national secondary schools, which have the highest-quality educational facilities.  The Ministry of Education announced Friday that it would create 6,000 more spots in national schools, bringing the number of spots in national schools to around 10,400.

Lower-scoring students can enroll in provincial schools, while the lowest scorers are eligible for resource-poor district schools.

Teachers union head Osiany decries this tiered system.

“We do not actually want schools to be ranked," he said. "The schools should have adequate facilities and they should do the same things everywhere.  But you see, the provision of facilities are also not equal - it is not equitable.  You find schools in far-flung areas, in remote areas, which have never even seen a laboratory.”

In the days following the results’ release, reports emerged of parents threatening, assaulting, and chasing away teachers from schools that performed poorly.  Several are in the hospital with serious injuries. A number of schools have been closed down.

Police spokesman Eric Kiraithe was unavailable for comment despite repeated attempts by VOA.

Teachers union head Osiany and other education officials say this tiered system puts too much pressure on teachers and students, pressure that at times can be deadly.  Since the release of the results, Kenyan media reported that one headmaster and two students committed suicide, allegedly because of the exams.

Sara Ruto is regional manager of Uwezo East Africa, a program to improve literacy and math skills among children in Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda. She says she thinks the focus on achieving high marks is limiting for children’s development and futures, and that those who do not fit the mold have few options.

“I think our system just has one channel, yet we need to develop multiple channels that has a space for the ones who are academically gifted, or the ones who are artistic, or the ones who are sports-oriented,” she said.

Ruto also says she thinks many parents might not have invested the time and energy into monitoring their children’s education and holding teachers accountable for what and how they teach.

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