Kenya is currently in the grips of a wave of student riots. In the last month alone, about 300 secondary schools have shut down as a result of the unrest. The timing of the riots is not surprising: national exam season is just around the corner. The month of July is when most schools would sit for their Mock examinations – internal exams designed to simulate the national exams. Performance in Mocks is taken as a good indicator of expected performance in the national exam – a fact that makes the exams stressful.

 Given the high tension atmosphere, it is quite likely that events that would ordinarily draw minor reactions from students get blown out of proportion. So what is it that most students are complaining about?

 “The exams are hard.” (according to an investigation by Nation)

 Exams have always been hard and there have always been schools that went on strike on this grievance. I remember an eruption of school strikes in my district when I was in form 2.  Four schools went on strike in close succession around Mock time and they sent emissaries to our school urging us to boycott the exams. The following year, when national exams results were released, one of the schools went on strike over their performance. This time, they marched to the District Education Board office carrying banners that asked “Why did we fail?” in big bold letters. It was a study in irony. The students alleged a plot by district officials to favor certain schools, evidenced by those schools good performance. Incidentally, the ‘favored’ schools had not boycotted mock exams in the previous year.

 Thinking back to this incident led me to some conclusions on the force behind the current wave. Read more