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National Examination Cheating: The place of integrity and punishment




The integrity of public national examinations is critical as many critical decisions are made based on the results of these examinations. Any practice consequently that jeopardizes the integrity of these examinations poses a great challenge to examination systems the world over.

One such practice, cheating in examinations, threatens not only the integrity of public national examinations but also the very principles of academic integrity.




The pervading issue of cheating in examinations globally has led to concerns resulting in challenges that cut across many countries; developed and developing countries, high achieving and low achieving states alike. 


In the study by the University of Nairobi scholars to investigate the approaches used in handling cheating in examinations, more so in public national examinations, two issues were used to explore cheating in exams.

Integrity And Punishment

These were integrity and punishment. Integrity was looked at from the perspective of honesty of individuals that determines the social culture related to cheating in examinations, while punishment was looked at as the process of meting out penalties to persons who engage in wrongdoing.




Kenya through the Ministry of Education (MoE), specifically Kenya National Examinations Council (KNEC) was used to explore the two constructs. This was because the Kenyan way of handling examinations is similar to approaches generally applied by most countries the world over.

The Kenyan context was also considered suitable as Kenya has been known to conduct national public examinations with success over the years thus providing a comprehensive locale’ for carrying out such a study.




The challenge driving this study was that the approaches for handling cheating in examinations have not stopped the vice. The situation is even worse with the digital age.

The study drew from ethical and psychological perspectives, hence Burrhus Frederic Skinner’s theory of Punishment (2012), Lawrence Kohlberg’s theory of Moral Development (2000), and Nina Mazar’s theory of Self Concept Maintenance (2008) w~i~h were key in determining the effectiveness of punishment as well as behavior characteristics that define the way we act and make decisions, hence the basis of this study.




The study design was qualitative and quantitative-based on primary and secondary data. The findings of the study showed that there has been an increase in the frequency of examination irregularities in public national examinations.




The study also showed that the phenomenon of cheating in the classroom situation is rampant. Further, it was found that some candidates who cheated in the KCPE examination can be traced to have cheated in the KCSE examination.

In approaching the effectiveness of penalties for cheating in examinations, the study looked at retribution (getting even with the students who cheat on examinations), deterrence (preventing students from cheating), societal protection (removal of the ability to commit further cheating), and rehabilitation (reforming the cheating students).




Interestingly, the study found that most of the penalties meted out to candidates who cheated in national public examinations leaned towards retribution (100%), deterrence (89.5%), and societal protection (68.4%), with no significant evidence of rehabilitation.

Indeed, to deter cheating, there is a need to look beyond laws and obligations as well as duties and responsibilities towards cheating in examinations.




Of significance is the need to look into behaviors that hinder this development and leaning towards rehabilitative laws on punishment and what motivates people to cheat. Without this, the global world will forever be searching for ways and means of handling cheating without success.

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