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Why Did 90 Percent of Kenyan Students Fail Secondary Exams?

FILE - Kenyan students ride the bus to their school, Jan. 14, 2008.
FILE - Kenyan students ride the bus to their school, Jan. 14, 2008.

Some Kenyan opposition lawmakers are calling on the government to investigate why 90 percent of the 600,000 students who took the 2017 secondary education exams failed. The minister of education, however, expressed satisfaction with the results.

Speaking to reporters in Nairobi, opposition legislator Caleb Amisi said parliament must understand what led to only 10 percent of students scoring high enough to enter university.

"Kenya National Examination Council must be ordered to prepare and present a comprehensive report over this perceived mass failure, and an independent investigation should as well be incorporated," Amisi said. "This should be conducted by some of the most credible auditing companies in Kenya."

The results sparked an uproar among parents, teachers and others concerned about the fate of the students and the quality of Kenya's education system.

A key question is what caused the high failure rate. Was it the fault of the students, the teachers, the curriculum, or an accelerated grading process that saw educators plow through the exams in just three weeks?

Mark Nyamita, an opposition lawmaker, says the problem needs to be fixed or millions of young Kenyans will be barred from higher education.

"If this goes on in this government over the next five years, we are going to have a whopping 2.5 million-plus people with their future shuttered," he said.

Some officials say the mass failure resulted from efforts to reduce cheating. In an interview with Citizen Television, Education Minister Fred Matiangi hinted that might be true, saying the results reflect the real state of Kenyan education.

"I am very satisfied with the results we had in the last two years, 2016 and 2017, because we have lived a lie for such a long time," Matiangi said. "Time is here for us now to deal with the truth."

Calls are growing for a national conference to resolve the crisis and decide what to do about the students who failed the exams.

The issue is expected to be discussed in the National Assembly in February.