Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Technology robbing poor pupils and parents millions of cash

Update 1: Now approaching 24 hours since sent that SMS yet not results received! And still waiting...... Update 2: Its 4 days later and no reply. Written it off 2010 losses expecting a repeat on KCSE results... __________________________________________________________________________________

Photo/Business Daily
Tens of millions of shillings are being made today from poor pupils, their parents and relatives all anxious for now released KCPE results. As expected, as always the case now for the seventh consecutive year, the free online results query services announced by the Ministry of Education and Kenya National Examinations Council are not working on the results days.

Visitors are “encouraged” to use costly Premium Rate Service advertised which continues delaying results thus forcing pupils and their families to send repeated messages, each costing then twenty shillings. But is this a case of technology failure or latest illustration of governance translucency?

Today's media reports it is anxious time for KCPE candidates over exam results. Everyone whom has sat for an examination knows too well the anxiousness that gripped them on learning that the results were out, be they primary, secondary school, high school, university or professional examinations. An unsettled state of emotions that makes food lack taste or an unquenchable thirst for results information no drinks can satisfy.

The emotional turmoil being experienced by parents and 775,000 pupils whom sat for this year's Kenya Certificate of Primary Education (or KCPE) examinations results released a short while ago by Ministry of Education (MoE). Parents eager to find out whether their child passed the exams, possible Form 1 admission school next month for better school fees and related expenditure budgeting. The impatient young can do anything to know the outcome of their 8-year long primary school life.

Under these circumstances, all welcome announced technologies to enable their instant access to the results. The minister's announcement of availability the results at the ministry's website, Kenya National Examinations Council (KNEC) website and option three – on mobile phone send index number to short 5052 (reported as 55052 by media) but do they work and at what cost?

The ministry's requests website visitors to “Click on the object Link below to start Searching for your results..” when no such link(s) for searching results actually exists!
Kenya Ministry of Education website
No links to search results (viewed on 28 December,2011)

KNEC provides two options in the order: 1. “SMS Index Number to 5052 to get 2011 KCPE Results on SMS” and 2. “Click here to check for 2011 KCPE Results Online.”

"SMS Index Number to 5052 to get 2011 KCPE Results on SMS"
Kenya National Examination Council website (viewed 28 Dec.,2011)

Choosing option 2 takes website visitor to a screen where can to type the index number but after pressing “SUBMIT” button gets “ERROR: Gateway Timeout: While trying to retrieve the URL timed out” message.

Essentially therefore leaving option 1 available to each of the the 775,000 pupils and (perhaps both) parents - sending index numbers to 5052 SMS service. Never mind that neither the ministry nor KNEC anywhere bother to inform mobile phone users that that messages sent to 5052 are charged at Kshs 20 per message or how long after they should expect the reply message.

The proof of the pudding is in the eating, therefore at 1:54 pm today I checked my mobile phone balance, chose a carefully selected index number, wrote and SMS to 5052 then pressed “send” button on the phone. There are several consumer protection issues this incident brings to the fore.

Two years ago, I know of a parent who sent a message to the service but after not getting any replies, sent several others afterwards. They then used different phones, then phones on different networks afraid that perhaps their phone or network were to blame. Never knew that each message cost them a whooping 20 Shs thus their total bill was enormous. They finally received irritating several SMS replies, but several days later, after they had anyway given up on the 'wonderful' technologies went and got to the results from the school.

It is now approaching 5:30 pm and yet to receive the reply SMS message and I can only imagine the many among the hundreds of thousands pupils and their parents have sent several messages are languishing in continued anxiety.

Bearing in mind potentailly shillings 15 million and five hundred thousand is derived if every pupil sends just one SMS add the extra messages sent by either or both their parents or relatives, repeatedly, potentially amounting many more tens of millions shillings from poor results anxious pupils and parents.

But expect the usual blame game and pointing of fingers. The ministry, KNEC and their Premium Rate Service Provider (short code 5052) jointly accusing technology “overwhelmed” demand for service outages or delays.

But is it really a technology failure or a transparency/translucency issue? The officials indirectly advertising for a commercial service, deliberately or by omission failing the free online services to drive pupils to the commercial venture? Who owns the services and how many millions of shillings has the firm derived each year? Why aren't there several PRSP short codes not published, if the one cannot cope with demand – if to ensure that the pupils expectations of technology are not quashed when so young. Was the service procured in line with the Public Procurement and Disposal Act, 2005? And why, after 7 years repeated experience on both KCPE and KCSE results has the ministry and KNEC failed to upgrade their system and bandwidth, at least before announcing to the public?

Could the officials publish the millions of shillings cumulatively generated from the premium rate SMS service over the last seven year, if it does not constitute business confidentiality or infringe on the business owners income privacy?

It is inexcusable that for the seventh consecutive year, neither the ministry's nor KNEC's websites are providing the announced promised results and I still have not received test results after sending one costly 20 shillings trial message to 5052 at 1:54 pm. I shall update this post with the date and time when, or if, I ever get the SMS query reply message. (Of course, careful not to reveal the mobile number(s) I used to avoid their prioritisation of my message above all others' messages.)

Conclude by stating that the Ministry of Education, Kenya National Examinations Council and their SMS Premium Rate Service Provider jointly have a public ICT consumer protection case to answer.

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