KCSE candidates falling flat in maths and sciences

In a troubling trend, performance in Mathematics and sciences in the Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education (KSCE) examination has been declining for the last three years, a Nation Newsplex review of national examination data reveals.

As candidates prepare to sit the 2017 KSCE starting Monday, the analysis finds that an overwhelming majority of the KCSE candidates failed in Mathematics and the sciences from 2014 to 2016.

Nearly 90 per cent, or 493,184 of the 569,733 candidates who sat the Mathematics Alternative A paper last year scored between C- and E. This was about a 10 percentage increase from each of the two previous years.

In contrast, four per cent (20,682) of the 2016 candidates scored either an A or A-. Half the candidates scored an E, the lowest grade, while the average mean grade was D, a drop from D+ in 2014 and 2015.

Performance in the Maths Alternative B paper was even worse, with 99 per cent of the 1,442 candidates who sat the paper scoring less than grade C. Less than one per cent, or three candidates, scored either grade A or A-.

On average, the proportion of candidates who scored the two top grades in both Mathematics papers was almost three times less than in 2014.

Last year, only 18 per cent of candidates who sat the Biology examination got at least grade C, a drop of more than half compared to 2015 when 40 per cent of candidates attained the grade and in 2014 when 38 per cent did the same.

The share of candidates who got D- and E in Biology in 2016 was almost triple (48 per cent) that of the previous year when 18 per cent of candidates got the same grades. In 2016, nearly 50 per cent of the candidates recorded the two lowest grades.

On the opposite side of the scorecard, only one per cent of the candidates got either A or A- in 2016, a fall from four per cent the previous year and five per cent in 2014. The mean grade attained in the subject last year dropped two places to D from C-.

Physics and Chemistry

Performance in Physics was better than in the other sciences. Half or 74,768 candidates who sat for the exam got grade D to E, a 12 per cent increase from 2014.

In contrast, only nine per cent or 13,026 scored an A or A-. The mean grade was C-, a drop from the last two previous years when the candidates recorded the midday way grade C.

With an average grade of D, performance in Chemistry was worse than the previous two years. In 2016, nine in ten candidates scored less than grade C compared to 7 in 10 in 2014. More than two-thirds of the students got D- and E while only one per cent scored A or A-.

As the 2017 KCSE exam starts, parents, teachers and student across the country are hoping that this year’s performance will reverse the downward trend, both in overall performance and in Mathematics and the sciences over the last three years.

More than half (52 per cent) of the 2016 KCSE candidates scored between mean grade D and E meaning that they did not even qualify for post-secondary certificate courses.

This was almost double the share of candidates who scored the lower grades in the previous two years. In 2014, 128,885 (27 per cent) of the candidates attained grade D to E compared to 133,563 (26 per cent) in 2015 and 295,463 (52 per cent) in 2016, a major increase.

Only one in six candidates attained the university cut off point of C+ compared to a third in the two previous years.

Fewer and fewer students are attaining grade A in the KCSE examination. Last year 141 or 0.02 per cent scored grade A, down from 2,685 or 0.5 per cent the previous year and 3,042 (0.6 per cent) in 2014.

In 2016, only 23 per cent of the candidates scored a mean grade of C and above which was about half the proportion who managed the grade in the two previous years. Only one in six candidates attained the university cut off point of C+ compared to a third in the two previous years.

A baseline study by the Centre for Mathematics, Science and Technology Education in Africa (Cemastea), a government agency, shows that teachers routinely advise students they consider weak not to take up science courses, when they should be encouraging them instead.

Other challenges identified in the study that was released in August this year include
poor school infrastructure. Also, many schools were not proactive in entrenching the study of science.

Highest enrolment

Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics is also in trouble at the tertiary level.

According the Commission for University Education’s State of University Education Report 2016, about a third of the 539,749 university students were enrolled in Agriculture, Architecture, Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics based courses.

The cluster with the highest enrolment was Business and Administration with 22 per cent or 120,223 students followed by Education with 15 per cent (79,368), and Humanities and Arts with nine per cent (46,139).

The same report reveals that a third of the graduates or 217,329 students, graduated with various degrees in the clusters of Agriculture, Architecture, Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics based courses from 2012-2015.

A majority of the graduates were in the cluster of Business and Administration (31 per cent) followed by Education with 18 per cent, and Humanities and Arts eight per cent.

Advanced economies are heavily reliant on Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics.

Investment in the four fields has seen different countries around the world, especially Asian countries like South Korea, leap forward in terms of development.

Mr Youngah Park, President of Korea Institute of Science and Technology Evaluation and Planning, told Newsplex on the final day of the Next Einstein Forum in Dakar, Senegal, that heavy investment in STEM is one of the main factors driving South Korea’s economic development.

The country whose GDP was comparable to poorer African countries in the 1960s was the 11th largest economy in the world by nominal GDP by 2016, according to the World Bank. Africa, in contrast, loses hugely from neglecting these fields, both in revenue and manpower.

On one hand, Africa loses Sh404 billion a year to hiring expatriates to provide STEM services, according to data from the International Organisation for Migration.

On the other hand, since 1990, Africa has been losing 20,000 professionals annually, with 300,000 African professionals residing outside Africa.

It costs about Sh4 million to train a doctor in Kenya and about Sh1.5 million to train a university graduate.

The cost of a PhD degree is around Sh5 million. According to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), Africa needed to produce 2.5 million new engineers and technicians to be able to meet the Sustainable Development Goals.

Kenya Institute of Curriculum Development (KICD) Director Julius Jwan said the new curriculum that will be rolled out next year starting with lower primary will reverse the trend.

“The approach we are taking is to give a practical approach in the context of competency based curriculum. One of the approaches is to change attitude,” said Dr Jwan.

Students in secondary school will specialise in the subjects they wish to pursue in tertiary institutions as learning areas have been divided into three categories: arts and sports, social sciences, and science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).

Dr Jwan added that the World Bank is also supporting the initiative with Sh20 billion starting next January and which see more emphasis given on science related subjects.

Starting this year, the government is funding students based on courses they take at universities.

A student studying dentistry gets the highest funding at Sh600,000 while the lowest which is a Bachelors of Arts (general) will receive Sh144,000 funding per year.

It will cost Sh576,000 per year for a student studying medicine and Sh468,000 for those studying veterinary medicine.

It will cost Sh432,000 per year for Pharmacy, Engineering (Sh396,000), Architecture (Sh384,000), Built Environment (Sh360,000) while for Agriculture it will be Sh324,000. The funding for student studying for Education (Science) per year will be Sh288,000, for science it will cost Sh264,000, applied social sciences courses such as hospitality and tourism will cost Sh2400,000. Business and Law will cost Sh216,000 while Applied Humanities will cost Sh180,000.

Previously the government was allocating a uniform figure of Sh120,000 for every student enrolled in public university.
Cemastea Director Stephen Njoroge told Nation Newsplex the institution’s focus is now to improve on attitude of students so that they can take up more science related subjects.

Mr Njoroge said this year 102 selected secondary schools have started to receive funds worth Sh54 million to acquire modern learning equipment such as laptops and LCD to be used in teaching.

“We are going to provide modern Chemistry, Physics and Biology learning materials to schools at an estimated cost of Sh54 million,” said Mr Njoroge.


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