NAIROBI - Kenyan parents and teachers are in shock after the education minister released results of the 2016 university entrance exam. Just 15 percent of the more than half-million candidates qualified.
The results represent a significant drop from last year, after officials cracked down on cheating in the exam.
The number of students who attained an "A" grade in the 2016 exams dropped by 95 percent compared to the previous year.
In 2015, in a single school with 202 students, all the candidates scored grade A, but the next year only 141 students across the country got a similar mark.
The overall poor performance follows new strict rules designed to curb cheating.
The 2016 exam results were released two months earlier than expected. Kenyan media reports say examination officials released the results early, after some school principals pressured them to award their students high marks.
Some principals are accused of bribing examiners between $100 to $160 to give their students good grades.
John Mugo is director of data at Twaweza East Africa, a non-profit working to improve education and government responsiveness in the region. He says education officials will face a lot of tough questions.
"Questions are being raised whether those heads or the management should be brought to account to the public. What happened? If they were involved in massive irregularities, then I think we should not keep quiet. They should be made to account. But then the other question Kenyans have is quality. Are students really learning? Or have [teachers] been drilling them to pass the test, such that when the test changes slightly then they all fail,” Mugo said.
Education expert Tomkin Baraza says credibility has been restored to the education sector, but another challenge awaits.
"Now we look at many students who were affected, where are we going to have them? The ministry should come [up] with a way to ensure that at least a majority of the students go somewhere, not where education is only meant for few students who pass exams,” Baraza said.
Kenya National Examinations Council chairman Professor George Magoha argues students do not need to get good grades to be successful.
Baraza echoes that view.
“They always equalize passing exams with excellence. Let us say if someone says, 'he gets D plus or an E,' you are seen as a failure. They do not emphasize most cases on talent, where somebody is talented. So most of those candidates who scored low grades are very much demoralized and maybe they think their future has been twisted,” Baraza said.
Nevertheless, the ministry of education said it will look at where the problem lies after the latest exam results.