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The battle for top places in the national Form Four examinations begins in earnest as early as the first form, a nationwide survey by the Nation this week reveals.
Interviews with head teachers and other staff of leading secondary schools in Kenya revealed no magic bullet to top in KCSE but different methods that have been employed with success.
However, committed teachers, a disciplined student fraternity and use of incentives came up repeatedly.
Working outside of the normal class hours, some schools complete their syllabus as early as January, allowing candidates to revise for the Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education (KCSE) exams for a whole year.
It is these professional tricks that have allowed schools with as high as 250 candidates to top the charts. In the results released on Wednesday, Maranda Boys High school in Nyanza topped the charts despite registering 261 candidates. It had a mean of 11.2.
Other that performed well despite a high number of candidates included Alliance High, (232) Nairobi School (279), Maseno (244), Limuru Girls (240), Pangani (267), Kibabii High (265), Njiiri’s (266), Meru (229), Nyambaria (262), Lugulu (294), Kabianga (270), Kakamega (276), St Joseph’s Boys, Kitale (330) and Kisii (315).
Working outside of the normal class hours, some schools complete their syllabus as early and January, allowing candidates to revise for the Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education (KCSE) exams for a whole year.
Maranda High school: Dedicated team saw us rise to the top of the deck
The secret behind the outstanding performance of Maranda High, according to the school’s Principal Boaz Owino, is hard work and dedication.
“I cannot say that I have the best teachers in this school, but I can confidently say I have the most dedicated team” he said.
He said they ensure that they cover the syllabus by June every year.
Good time management, Mr Owino said, enables them to cover the syllabus on time without having to sacrifice the time set aside for co-curricular activities and holidays.
“Once the syllabus is completed, students are then given time to revise,” he said.
He added that they had established a friendly working relationship between teachers and students which enables students to talk to teachers freely and ask questions to improve their weak areas.
Maranda’s head of academic affairs Saul Wera said they track their performance and they are always keen on improving their weak areas detected in both national and local examinations.
The school currently has a total of 1,540 students— 290 of whom will be sitting for their KCSE this year.
Starehe Boys’ centre: Random tests and remedial work did it
Starehe Boys’ Centre made a huge comeback in last year’s KCSE examinations by emerging fourth nationally, with a mean grade of A-.
The improved performance, as the Saturday Nation learnt, was as a result of a change in teaching technique.
As soon as the school performed below expectations in 2010, teachers said, ways were devised to increase teacher-student interaction.
School principal Paul Mugo said that students were also randomly assessed, away from the normal exam periods.
Mr Mugo said that the good performance registered by the school was as a result of changing the timing of issuing assessments to students and giving more attention to remedial teaching.
“What we did different last year is that the timing of evaluation changed and more time was given to remedial teaching,” he said.
According to school director Matthew Kithyaka, the boys were urged to use their extra time to study, such as during weekends and evenings.
And this was evident when the Nation visited the school on Wednesday.
No sooner had the students celebrated their 2011 achievements than they began filing away to their classes to resume work — in contrast with previous years.
Kenya High School: Saturday is a working day, but no tuition here
At Kenya High, ranked seventh with a mean of 10.6, the syllabus is covered by the beginning of May. Thereafter, candidates embark on group discussions which are guided by the teachers.
“It is a learner-driven approach with teachers only guiding to ensure the bar is raised to our standard,” said the school’s deputy principal Ms Lucy Mugendi.
Lower classes should have covered the syllabus by October of every year before embarking on the next class’ work.
The school timetable runs from 6.20am when students attend preps up to 7.20. During this time teachers of compulsory subjects attend to the students.
“They do this for free as we have not asked parents to pay us something,” says Ms Mugendi.
They then go to a 40 minute morning devotion before beginning normal classes which run up to four. They also go for evening classes, which run up to nine in the evening.
“We want our students to have enough rest. Indeed by 10.30pm the lights are out,” she says.
The school, which has a population of more than 1,000 students, has two games days, Mondays for Form Three and Four, and Friday for the lower classes.
Since the holiday tuition was banned by the government the school now has classes up to Saturday. “Classes begin at 7.30am and run up to 4pm.
“Teachers get a small token per session, but mostly it is sacrifice and love for the students that drive teachers,” said Ms Mugendi.
Sheikh Khalifa Bin Zayed Al-Nahyan Secondary: A unique approach
Sheikh Khalifa Bin Zayed Al-Nahyan Secondary and Technical school in Mombasa stands out as a unique learning institution in more ways than one.
With separate classrooms, corridors, alleys, dormitories, school buses and even sections of the dining and assembly hall for male and female students — in appreciation of the school’s Muslim tradition— Sheikh Khalifa presents a scenario of two institutions in one.
This has inculcated a valuable sense of competition among the two lots of students, leading to the excellent performance posted by the school’s candidates in the Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education examinations.
From the outset, the school’s board of governors ensures that the schools legacy is maintained by selecting students with a minimum of 370 marks at the Kenya Certificate of Primary Education exam, from across the nation.
Two internal CATs per term and random assessment tests, which are either set internally or sourced from outside depending on the subject heads, are also administered.
Chess and scrabble are encouraged to sharpen thinking capacity and build on their word power. However, holiday time is strictly for relaxation.
Maseno school: There are no secrets here, you know hard work pays
“We do not have a secret for our success. The only way to success is hard work and everyone knows that,” Maseno School Deputy Principal Kennedy Ojero said.
As a national school, the institution has been admitting some of the best performers in KCPE from all over the country.
However, this is not the main reason behind the school’s success, according to Mr Ojero.
“Hard work, discipline and maintaining a relaxed environment for students and teachers has been working well for us,” he told the Nation.
He said teachers work hard to cover the syllabus on time and give the students time to revise and interact to improve their weak areas.
For a student to be promoted to the next class, the deputy principal said, he has to meet what the school calls The 3C’s Policy— Character, Class work and Conduct.
The academic performance is also determined by student’s average scores in three sets of exams done every month.
Mr Ojero said the school had also taught students to view their teachers as friends who add knowledge, rather than tough authoritarians.
“Teachers on the other hand have always been friendly to the students and we encourage them to give them an easy environment so that the students can feel free to air their views and ask questions,” he said.
Meru school: We create more time to prepare for the ‘battle’
By the time schools re-open for the second term in May, Form Four students at Meru School in Imenti North District will have already completed their syllabus.
School Principal Silas Mwirigi said candidates are taken through a marathon learning system that ensures they have two terms for revision at their disposal.
The class that will sit this year’s KCSE, for instance, must finish their syllabus by the end of April. The students had already finished their Form Three work by September last year.
The students’ day begins at 4.30am when everyone is supposed to embark on cleaning, personal grooming and taking breakfast in readiness for the classes, which start at 6.30am.
“By the time students in other schools start learning, we are already one hour ahead of them,” he said.
Lunch break is strictly 15 minutes after which, the students resume classes at 1.30pm where they are taught maths.
“We have ‘the mathematical lunch’, during which, students tackle 6-10 sums,” he said.
Mr Mwirigi said the school takes teachers on retreats to motivate them while students receive motivational speakers.
Moi girls high school, Eldoret: A strategic plan has focused our efforts on excellence
Success of Moi Girls High School, Eldoret, is pegged on the school’s 2007-2012 strategic plan, Principal Magdalene Sang’ has revealed.
Mrs Sang’ said the board of governors had managed to rally staff, students and parents to seek excellence in teaching and learning and over the past three years, the school’s performance has been impressive.
The school’s admission criterion that has offered affirmative action to candidates from public schools has seen the centre admit students with as low as 292 marks from North Eastern Province.
But Mrs Sang’ said they are never worried because they believe all students are intelligent. The students’ day usually starts at 5am.
They are expected to be in class by 6.30am for morning preps. The students also meet for 30-minute group discussions after lunch.
They get another preps session between 5pm and 6pm soon after games. The girls also embark on evening preps from 7pm to 9pm.
Besides two comprehensive internal exams done mid year and at the end of the year, the school holds joint mock exams for Form Fours at the end of first term with Kabarak and Sacho high schools.
This helps them to gauge the candidates’ performance.
Friends school Kamusinga: Using common sense pays
Newly elevated national school Friends School Kamusinga’s story of success in the Form Four exam is best captured in its simple and yet thought-provoking motto: “Use common sense.”
“Time management is cardinal in all aspects of school life because to put in our best and achieve good results, we must be good time managers,” explained the Principal, Mr Edwin Namachanja.
Senior students have been assigned the responsibility of providing guidance to Form Ones.
It is unheard of for students to be punished for failing to do their assignments since such behaviour is considered a manifestation of indiscipline and laziness on the part of a student.
The school, located on the fringes of the dusty and bustling Kimilili trading centre in Bungoma County, has 1,054 students and 63 teachers.
In 2010, it posted a mean score of 9.593 with 36 candidates scoring plain A, 60 others posted A minus and 71 had B plus.
Only four candidates scored C minus. The principal has also made it easy for teachers and students to cooperate and work towards a common goal.
Respective departmental heads prepare programmes and come up with strategies of improving results each year after the performance for the previous year has been analysed.
Three exams are also set to assess performance each term.