Standard Eight pupils in many parts of the country start their national examinations on Tuesday under a cloud of insecurity as political tensions boil over.
On top of that, they will be the guinea pigs as the government tests a raft of tough rules it introduced last year to guide the administration of nation tests.
On Sunday, despite politically motivated security tensions, officials concluded delivery of examination materials to exam centres countrywide, before rehearsals today.
In a directive to teachers, the national examinations council (Knec) pointed to the beginning of a new era when it advised that, “for Kenya Certificate of Primary Education (KCPE) examination, candidates must be sensitised on proper handling of the optical mark reader (OMR) answer sheets”.
The OMR aims at addressing cases of candidates having challenges with shading their index numbers correctly, as well as those who inadvertently shade the lozenge (ellipse) for absent when indeed they sat the examination.
The forms pupils will be using tomorrow have been pre-printed with index numbers, names of candidates, and the centre name.
They are also subject-specific, so the pupils will not need to fill in their details, as has been the tradition.
This year, 1,003,556 candidates are expected to sit KCPE exams in 28,566 centres countrywide, starting with English language and composition tomorrow (Tuesday), science, Kiswahili lugha and Kiswahili insha on Wednesday and end on Thursday with social studies and religious studies.
Knec acting chief executive said all county directors must return all materials used in the exams between November 3 and November 5.
Last year, a total of 942,021 candidates sat the examination. Of these, 49.7 per cent were girls and 50.3 per cent boys.
Victor Oduor Odhiambo of Daisy Special School in Kakamega topped examinations, after he obtained 437 marks out of 500.
During the examination, a total of 5,143 scored 400 marks and above, another 207,141 got between 301 and 400 marks, 501,552 got 201 and 300 marks, 221,438 scored between 101 and 200 marks while 6,747 candidates scored less than 100 marks.
Victor’s marks were 10 percentage points below the 2015 top performer, Aggrey Akhanyinya Wabuko of St Joseph’s Academy, also of Kakamega County, who got 449 marks, the best in eight years.
It was the first time in four years that a top candidate had such a grade. In 2014, the lead candidate had 441 and in 2013, it was 444.
Overall, there was a marked drop in performance last year, a fact largely attributed to the strict measures that were deployed to eliminate cheating.
And this year, following an amendment to the Knec Act, a person , officer, agent or staff of the council whose omission or commission leads to an examination irregularity, commits an offence and is liable upon conviction to imprisonment for a term not exceeding five years or a fine not exceeding Sh5 million.
This year, candidates will also be able to appeal the decision of the council to cancel, withhold or nullify their results to the National Examinations Appeal Tribunal.
Such appeals will be lodged by institutions whose candidates are affected and the appeal will be made through the county director of education and where a person aggrieved is a minor, the application will be made by the parent or guardian.
Supervisors and invigilators have been directed to collect all the relevant information and evidence in cases of malpractice to be used not only for taking necessary action but also which is binding in a court of law or the tribunal.
Candidates taking examinations from hospitals will have an invigilator and a security officer.
“For every 220 candidates there will be one invigilator and for every 200 candidates, there will be one supervisor,” states the brief.
Candidates’ answer scripts will also be returned to containers by centre managers who will be escorted by security officers and the sealed packets containing the answer scripts will be received by authorised education officers manning the storage facilities.
“Signing of accountability documents during handing and taking over process should be done and the containers should securely be locked by the authorised key-holders once all the candidates answer scripts for the day have been received,” states the council.
The council also acquired 20 new scanning machines at Sh90 million to be used in processing of national examinations in record time.
Last year’s KCPE results were released on December 1 while Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education (KCSE) exam results were released on December 29.
The council has also produced the first edition of the examination manual for KCPE and KCSE examinations and contains information relating to all the processes of exam activities.
“This manual is to be securely kept by the headteacher and issued to the supervisor during examinations period for reference purposes,” added the brief.
The council has also introduced new packaging ways of the exam materials for return to the container for storage and subsequent delivery to it.
A command and control centre, to ensure enhanced coordination of all the activities related to examinations administration, has been established.
Knec chairman George Magoha said necessary steps had been taken to ensure credible national examinations as it was last year.
“We are confident that all candidates in every part of the country will get an equal and fair chance to sit this important examination from Tuesday,” Prof Magoha said.
The KCPE examination ends on Thursday ahead of the KCSE theory paper on Monday next week.
Practicals for KCSE will be concluded on Thursday. A total of 419 containers have been placed across the country for storage of examination materials.
Deputy county commissioners and sub-county directors of education are the only ones allowed to have the keys to the containers.
KCPE examination ends on Thursday ahead of the KCSE theory paper on Monday next week.