Dealing with a Crisis: Kenya National Examinations 2016

(L-R) PS, TSC Boss Nancy Macharia, Prof Magoha, H.E. Uhuru Kenyatta, CS Matiangi, CEO Karogo.

When an organisation or an institution is hit by a crisis, especially one that touches on the organisation’s credibility, it is often hard for the management or the leaders of the institutions to face the public.

For many organisations there is usually a conflict on whether to bury one’s head in the sand, take responsibility, apologise and move on or deny! deny! deny!

The Kenya National Examination Council (KNEC) was facing this situation in 2016 following massive irregularities that saw the results of approximately 2,709 primary and 5,100 secondary school candidates cancelled in 2015 following rampant cheating orchestrated by teachers, police and KNEC officials.

It is important to note that when a country’s national examination results are in question, it raises concerns about the labour market within the country and affects all other initiatives that the country could be undertaking. The situation with KNEC, therefore, was a concern to the nation and the President. Desperate measures had to be taken to ensure the national examinations regained their credibility.

Dr. Fred Matiang’i joined the ministry as Cabinet Secretary (CS) at a time when The KNEC Brand was in ICU and needed urgent resuscitation.

Like a good manager he identified that there was a problem, which is the first step to addressing a crisis. After accepting there was a problem he made a promise to address the problem and protect the credibility of the examinations. Muhtar Kent once said that “a brand is a promise and a good brand is a promise well kept.” All eyes were on Dr Matiang’i.

H.E. Uhuru Kenyatta is briefed about the results of KCPE.

To address the problem, the CS weeded out at least 10 senior officers at the council, creating a new team of experts to handle the operation. These reforms brought in the new C.E.O Ms. Mercy Karogo and the new Chairman Prof. George Magoha.

In any crisis you require a strong team that you can delegate responsibilities to and who can fully commit to the task at hand. KNEC was a baby that needed to be handled with care, which meant that various ministries had to get involved to ensure that the process was seamless. The Ministry of Education, The Ministry of Security and The Ministry of ICT all took action.

How did the CS and KNEC do it right in the end? These were the five key measures that were considered and implemented to curb the crisis.

  1. Delegation of responsibility – This was done to rein in teachers who had been helping students to cheat in previous examinations. School principals were put in charge of their examination centres (assisted by supervisors) and took full responsibility and accountability for any examination malpractice reported in their centres.
  2. Command Centre – For ease of management and flow of information, all departments involved were brought together under one roof in a command centre where all issues could be addressed. The stakeholders entailed a security agency team, a call centre that was operational 24 hours a day, a PR team, an IT team, and various experts within KNEC, including team leaders of departments handling the exams, the CEO, Board members and the KNEC chairman.
  3. Time – The time it took for the exams to be delivered from the warehouses and dispatched to various examinations centres was taken into account. Any delays were reported to the hotline where a team provided further assistance. The release of results was also done in a timely manner to avoid leakages that used to occur after the exams were marked.
  4. Security – KNEC introduced strong double-lock metal containers across all the sub-county offices and county commissioners were tasked with implementing 24-hour security. Head teachers collected exam papers at 5am every day from these containers, which were opened jointly by the sub-county education officials and an examinations official in the presence of a police officer who then signed against accountability documents confirming both the container and exam papers had not been tampered with. The exam papers were then escorted by a senior police officer to the exam centres.New rules were introduced to monitor the conduct of examiners. This included banning the use of electronic gadgets inside marking centres, restricting access to the marking centres by unauthorised persons, prohibiting exam materials from being taken out of the centres and limiting the venues of marking centres.
  5. Communication – In any crisis situation it is always important to identify the organisation’s spokesperson. In this case, only the Chairman and the CS spoke to the media on any issues related to the exams. All information was channelled through the communications agency to the newsrooms and the social media pages. The agency took full control of the social media pages, gave out information and answered all questions the public had concerning the exams.

These are just a few measures that were taken to restore sanity within the Exam Council. A lot of work went in ensuring everything ran smoothly; there were lots of sleepless nights and handwork put in, but when we look at it now, we can see KNEC on a path in the right direction.