Exam Fever and other maladies

The exams have started here. We, the staff, can relax a bit. For me it means the end of classroom teaching in Kenya for good. And I mean “for good”, I can’t claim to have enjoyed it. But the exam season itself has brought us some entertainment of its own.

The universtiy have sent an invigilator to watch over us and the exam process. He arrived the evening before the first exam and I accompanied him in his car on a short trip to Tala to decide that the hotels there did not meet his standards. I concur, I wouldn’t want to stay there. He went back to Nairobi in the dark!

Next morning was the Entrepreneurship exam. The same students had two exams on their first day: Entrepreneurship in the morning and Javascript in the afternoon. The invigilator made us sign as we took posession of the first papers — a good new piece of procedure: the main purpose for his being here is to help avoid leaks and other problems from which the University has suffered in the recent past. From our perspective, however, its good to have him here to see what a mess the process is on account of the rubbish they send to us.

The Entrepreneurship exam, for example, had questions on Entrepreneurship on the first page, as you might expect, and questions on Advanced PC Maintenance on page two which might come as a bit of a supprise (although not if you’ve seen the last batch of exams we got!). Given that the Advanced PC exam is yet to come, the students can’t be given those papers because it would consititute a leak. The solution is simple, since the next page contained the rest of the Entrepreneurship exam questions: photocopy the fronts of the first pages on to fresh sheets. This simple solution was complicated in what seems to me a typically Tala way: we had no electricity.

The external and internal invigilators dismissed the candidates from the exam room and went off in the external invigilator’s car looking for a town in which both electricity and a photocopy service could be found at the same time. They didn’t have much luck. They got as far as Kangundo and turned back, it looked as if the whole of Machakso district was blacked out. They turned back towards Tala looking for a plce with a photocopier and a generator. They were luck,y finally, at the bank.

You have to remember that this is the (only) day when these students will have two exams on the same day. The longer it takes to sort out the first exam, the less time will be available to deal with the second. And its putting the students under unnecessary stress. Kenya Commercial Bank allowed our brave invigilators to photocopy their fifteen A4 exam papers … at a cost of 200 KSH per page! Yup, thats 3000 shillings! The going rate for photocopying in Tala is 3 bob per page and in Nairobi it’s 1.50! 3000 shillings is about $40. Things were desperate and the bank knew it. Presumably the also didn’t want to give the impression that they were offering photocopying services.

The afternoon exam went without hiccough (although I have more to rant on the content and style of questions). But this morning there came antoher: an exam wtih only the first page copied, no signs of questions 4 and 5. They called and emailed to the university to have the missing questions sent and photocopied….

The best thing about all this is how happy my colleagues are. They have struggled long against an incompetent exam office and run up considerable bills on their mobile phones sorting out just this sort of cockup. Now, at last, there is someone from the University to see the situation on the ground and also to make important decisions! They seem very relaxed; almost glad to have had such cockups in the first two days, so as to make the point very emphatically that something needs to be done at the exam office.

But now, I think, our students have suffered enough. The message has been made loud and clear. Lets hope the rest of the exams can go without incident.


  1. Mark Says:

    Oops, this turned out to be much longer than I intended. 😮 I guess I wanted to get it off my chest. Anyway, James, I hope this makes you appreciate being away from this place!

  2. James Says:

    Atleast they got a taste of their own concoctions! I wonder Whether much will be rectified even after all that mess. It takes a hell lot of time for changes to be effected at the University. Remember that they are still Sleeping (I mean Working) on the course outline! I pity the students who have to make do with mistakes that are not of their own making.

  3. Mark Says:

    The gentleman concerned is sympathetic. You know him, James, he was the one we went to see together when a whole class I had been teaching failed their programming exam. He used to work in the responsible department but has moved on to other responsibilities. But still I don’t know how much power he has personally to change things. Maybe the whole group of invigilators will have some forum to complain when they get back. Whilst I am sure they don’t mind spending two weeks visiting colleges and getting some sort of allowance for their trouble, Im sure they would prefer if if they didn’t have to keep solving problems caused by the incompetence of CEP.

  4. Chris Says:

    WTF does an exam on Entrepeneurship look like…?!


  5. Mark Says:

    Good question Chris,

    Your understanding of an exam I guess, and mine, is that it ought to be set in such a way that it tests the core skills of the subject. Those things which were set out in the aims and objectives of the course: upon completion of this course students shoudl be able to …. . And that’s what you ask them to demonstrate in the exam, right?

    But this Diploma seems to have been organised by a different system. The whole course syllabus document only contains one or two aims and/or or objectives for the whole diploma; something to do with taking advantage of the diverse [job] marget offered by IT. It looks as if the objective was for the university to take advantage of a potential to earn money from fees from students wanting to learn about IT.

    In an absence of aims and objectives the exams tend to follow the whim of the teachers. The course outline for any subject is just a quarter-page of buzzwords and topics. Since no skills are described the exams tend to be on ‘theory’.

    The Entrepreneurship exam looked like this:

    1) Explain the 4 features of the management process used by Entrepreneurs

    2) Stage 4 characteristics found in an Entrepreneur and not in an Intrepreneru.

    3) Using SWOT analysis explain how you would screen a small cyber-cafe that has 5 computers, 2 workers and is located at the college students’ centre.

    4) Discuss 4 aspects that an Entrepreneur should consider when it comes to marketing the enterprise’s product.

    5) Differentiate between “Debt Financing” and “Equity Financing”

    6) Explain 5 ways in which an Entrepreneur could raise capital for the business in its growth stage

    7) Outline 5 reasons as to why an entrepreneur needs to manage their business finances in a proactively [sic]

    8) Illustrate 5 financial tools entrepreneurs use to manage business finances effectively

    9) State 5 types of Entrepreneurs

    10) Explain using 5 reasons why an Etrepreneur should integrate Information Technology in their business

    11) Describe 5 forms of business ownership

    12) Discuss 5 roles of the government in influencing the small business environment.

  6. Mark Says:

    This whole exam thing gets worse. I just helped invigilate the Unix II paper. This was one I felt confident about. I taught the subject twice or three times in the past and made sure we covered everything in the sketchy course outline, plus all topics in the past exam questions.

    You should have seen what rubbish they set. 🙁

    Half of it is outside the course outline, the rest is included only by extreme openmindedness and nowhere near what the past papers included. There is NO OTHER SOURCE OF INFORMATION available. The course outline is a quarter of a page of Q4: a list of keywords, and when we ask the teachers in Nairobi to lend us their notebooks we are told they worked hard to prepare them and we must do the same. We don’t know what textbooks they are using. We dont even know who set the exams.

    I’m damn angry and sad D(

    That’s it, the end of my teaching experience.

    Good riddance to bad rubbish. 8o

  7. Drew Says:

    mooo, sounds like poo.
    so, when exactly do you return to London?

  8. JEANNIE Says:


  9. Mark Says:

    Jeannie, thanks for your comment and welcome to Bitterjug.com.

    What do you think, about who has the responsibility to solve or, lets say, address this sort of problem?

    I’ve worked at the college for almost two years now and seen six sets of IT exams. The quality, compared to the exams I was involved in writing and moderating back when I worked for De Montfort University in the UK, is desperately poor. Some people tell me that it is not like this for all of JKUAT’s exams but that the CEP ones seem to suffer most. Perhaps this is because CEP is operated upon business principles to the detrement of academic ones. This is what I suspect. But, really, I would like to know what you think.

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