Imagine if it all rested on one test. And you couldn’t take it twice.
For those in a British-based secondary school system such as the Daraja Academy girls in Kenya, that is the reality.
The K.C.S.E. (Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education) is taken at the completion of secondary education, and is the entrance requirement for Kenyan universities. The exam covers seven subjects: English, Swahili and Mathematics are compulsory, and students choose at least two sciences, one humanities and at least one practical or technical subject.
The test is taken during October and November, and the results are released in February the following year. The curriculum is so intensive that the test often can take weeks to administer. Exams, papers and labs are taken over a course of a month to give students breaks to study and recuperate.
A good grade guarantees one a place in one of Kenya’s public or private universities. Says Mr. Charles, Head of School at Daraja, “The K.C.S.E. defines the life of a person after (secondary) school in Kenya. That is unfortunately how the system here is designed. You can be exceptionally smart, but if you cannot perform on this test, it means nothing.”
Because the test is a major determinant of a student’s future, schools like Daraja have this test top of mind in designing a curriculum, and guide students to what is on the K.C.S.E. exam in their classroom teaching.
Last week, I shadowed some students in the classroom, relearning the difference between complementary and adjacent angles in geometry, and discovering that biology can be interesting with a good teacher.
This week is a bit more subdued, as students are spending the final few weeks of their second term (out of three) studying and taking mock K.C.S.E. exams. As one of the Form 4 (high school seniors) said at dinner last night, “I have to go back and relearn everything I learned four years ago.”
My only comparison from the investment industry– the monster CFA exam– is starting to seem like child’s-play.
So how did Daraja Academy students do on the most recent K.C.S.E. exam?
In February 2014, Daraja learned that 20 of their 26 exam sitters received a score qualifying them to attend a four-year university. In fact, seven received scores high enough to qualify for a full government scholarship (and an additional four may also qualify, depending on government funding).
Considering that just four years ago these young women did not have the means to even attend secondary school, these results are pretty amazing.
While many of the girls still await final details of their next stage, they are participating in Daraja Academy’s six-month “Transition Program,” which teaches them valuable life skills regardless of their next stage in life– college, career, or entrepreneur.
I’m honored to be coaching the “Transition” women on business plan writing and presentation skills during their final weeks on Daraja’s campus.
Stay tuned to hear my experiences.