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Why Kenya’s Education System Is Failing Our Children & What We Need To Do.

There is a reason why some countries are highly developed


There is a reason why some countries are highly developed, rich and produce the most ingenious inventions while some are very under-developed, poor and produce nothing of significance except natural production like crops. The reason is Education.

To compete in today’s global economy, nations must invest in education and few countries are more invested in education than South Korea. That is the reason why South Korea is ranked as the most educated country in the World in 2017. South Koreans value education so much, that in 2017, they recorded the highest education level among the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries, with 68% of the population possessing a degree. Comparatively, Kenya is nearly at the bottom of the most educated list with many of our so called “professionals” possessing fake degrees.

The low position of Kenya, is as a result of a difficult and retrogressive education curriculum where the emphasis is put on creating difficult examination standards and very efficient marking rather than learning. A cut-throat curricullum which is probably responsible for the dismal performance of our 2017 KCSE candidates. How can Kenya, a country which, only a paltry 11% of it’s high school graduates made the cut for enrollment in its Universities, get featured high in the list of the most educated countries in the world?. Well We can surely improve our approach to education and rank much higher than we ever imagined, if we have the political will needed to overhaul the entire education system and if we put a genuine effort in designing a curriculum that has the best interests of our children at heart. We certainly have plenty of the brains and expertise needed to come up with a successful curriculum right here in Kenya, and we have countries such as South Korea, as inspirations and case studies of how to achieve that.

Kenya’s education system was probably designed to limit the number of those who pass due to reasons best known to the government officials who were in charge of drafting our curriculum. Some citizens speculate that the government prefers less than 90,000 high school graduates to make it to university because that is the maximum number that all of our current universities can accommodate. Some others claim the ruling elite are still employing colonial tactics in drafting substandard policies geared towards curbing the potential of citizens. Since education brings economic freedom which in turn brings citizen awareness in their rights and knowledge about the responsibilities of their government therefore empowering them to demand good governance. It is a fact that the best governed and most developed nations of the world have highly educated populations. It is also a fact that the uneducated or the insufficiently educated can never be fully independent people.

I don’t dismiss any of the above theories from the disappointed parents who uttered them, because 11% only out of over 600,000 high school graduates making it to university is a very abnormal statistic to easily accept, especially when the reasons cited by the education authorities does not explain logically the high number of failures, under-developed country or not. This worrying situation calls for a serious rethink and redesign of our education curriculum. It is most unfair to blame students for underachieving or to credit “efficient marking” & lack of cheating as the reasons for the low pass rate as Mr. Matiangi tries to claim.

It is very irresponsible and very negligent for an education minister to casually dismiss such a huge national crisis with outrageous excuses that it borders on the criminal. This is unacceptable and inexcusable. Indeed it is an international embarassment that the countless innovative products our Jua Kali sector has produced over the years were done by gifted artisans who passed through our education system but failed KCPE or KCSE exams because they were weak in Kiswahili, History and Chemistry and that our education system, instead of recognizing subjects they passed, just declared them failures using overall results. A system that rewards memorization but rejects raw God given talent is simply retrogressive.

Kenya is a country comprised of mostly Muslims and Christians. We all believe God created all human beings with at least one talent. We are not all created equal but God, as fair and most knowledgeable as befits his majesty, created ALL human beings with at least one ability that comes naturally to them. Some have been created with several talents but no one is created without a single thing that they are good at. God is always fair.

Since most of us believe the above as fact , then it means no one can fail an exam if we assess them on their individual talents only, right? Then why do we accept our education system, as it is currently designed, to consign 89% our high school graduates to a difficult adulthood in the low income earning category by forcefully educating, testing & failing them deliberately in subjects they are not good at? 89% of over 600,000 students must not be something, we as a nation, should move on from. We would have failed as parents and as a country,  if we accept this worrying statistic.

We must urgently come up with solutions that will prevent the future artistic kids from being permanently consigned to a Jua kali artisan’s career and have them directing their God given talents towards designing drones, smartphones and futuristic cars. There is nothing keeping us from being the next South Korea or Japan in terms of innovation and technology except our education system and our government policies. What I suggest below, is not an elaborate process but a simple one, our curriculum just needs to identify the talent in kids early, then nurture and grow it to it’s full potential. I will leave how to achieve this to the expert educators and those charged with formulating policies. Who knows, we might actually surprise the world by overtaking South Korea as the best educated country in the World in just a few years.

The Kenyan education system overburdens children with subjects that they are evidently weak at, subjects that they don’t have any hope of getting better at and subjects that they will surely fail in every exam they take throughout their education years. Forcing difficult subjects on kids produces a mental block and resistance to learn them. This uncaring attitude is just an exercise in futility.

Grading kids using exams on subjects they’re poor at is why cheating in exams is a rampant culture in our schools. How do you expect a child who is uninterested and very weak in biology to name all the parts of a human being’s digestive system or a child who finds chemistry impossible to understand to remember all the elements in the periodic table? If they answer correctly to the above questions, they most likely cheated or memorized the answers.

Both of the above strategies that students in Kenya employ to “pass” exams in subjects they are weak at, are unhelpful in preparing them for a future career that we expect them to be good at. It is also the biggest reason why we encounter “professionals” who are terrible at their jobs and very incompetent, on a daily basis. The doctor who misdiagnoses and prescribes the wrong drugs could be a product of the above strategies. If you ever hear of a corrupt Lawyer who relies on bribing Judges to win cases , remember he or she is also a product of the above.

Teaching children only subjects they find interesting and easy to pass not only produces greater excellence in the subjects but most importantly produces future professionals who excel and are fully competent in their jobs. Not everyone can be a Surgeon or a rocket Scientist but everyone’s natural talent can be harnessed to its full potential thereby raising competency levels in every industry

In my opinion, we must create a curriculum that educates and prepares children for careers best suited to their strengths and talents. We need to establish at an early age, the most suitable career path for our kids, based on their strengths in school subjects. After establishing that, teachers will be able to design for them an education path best suited to their strengths and completely exclude subjects they are weak at. The student who excels in English, Religion and History can be a Theologian or a Historian. The student who is good in Mathematics, Geography and has a talent for sketching can be developed to become an excellent Architect or a great Navigator. If a child is good in Science subjects but weak in arts, then we may be certain a career in, for instance, Medicine or Geologiy is better suited to them than a career in Law or in professional sports and so forth.

This assessment could be done near the end of primary school education. Beginning high school, children should only be educated & graded in subjects they excel at. That will enable them to develop their talents, pass all their exams and be competent professionals in their chosen fields. This culture of forcing our kids to master all variety of subjects in order to land a productive career is just plain wrong and needs to stop. There would not have been the multi billion dollar worth Microsoft operating system, Windows (Bill Gates) or Apple iPhones (Steve Jobs), if this was the case in USA. The U.S education system recognizes and develops talents early, a major reason why they have invented the majority of the most useful and profitable products that are used all over the world.

Our Teachers also need to be paid well and adequately trained towards implementing an all inclusive education system. Schools also need to be fully equipped  with the necessary tools, infrastructure and support to enable them to meet the requirements of the new curriculum. Once we design a system that caters for every individual talent, we will see, the currently impossible scenario of, all students in Kenyan schools passing their exams. No one will be declared a “failure”.  Consequently our higher education institutions will produce only the most competent Engineers, Chefs and Managers.

As tax paying citizens and parents,  we must demand a serious national debate to address this education system which is hampering us from achieving what we can as a country. There is nothing stopping us from convening a National Conference made up of Kenyan citizens, young and old, from all sectors to brainstorm and come up with an education system that will recognize, guide and fully develop every individual child’s talents. Kenya has undertaken more ambitious and more expensive projects than a new education curriculum. The most notable of our grand National projects was the Kenya Constitution 2010. That historic project meant our government must get rid of all colonial policies and design policies in line with our new constitution. We cannot claim that our current education system fully meets a Kenyan’s right to education as required by the new constitution. Education is not spending 14 years in school only to be issued with a FAIL certificate as has happened to 89% of our children in 2017.  When will Kenyans realise that the most important “development projects” that they must demand from their leaders are not roads, railways or airports but a proper all inclusive education of their children? Development comes naturally and rapidly to an educated population, the best examples being South Korea and Singapore.

We must no longer accept our gifted young artisans to be confined to a low income career of making simple jua kali products & instead let us develop their talent to achieve higher. Instead of crafting household utensils, we will have giant coorporations such as Samsung and Toyota lining up to build their manufacturing plants here. An educated Kenyan population would be able to easily provide designers, engineers and innovators right here in Kenya. We can concentrate on developing individual talent and stop limiting our children’s potential by forcing difficult subjects. All wee need is political goodwill and an ability to think.

Education need not be difficult, it just needs to easily adapt to every child’s strengths. I still haven’t found the need to plant cabbages in my adulthood. I was forcefully taught Agriculture despite failing every Agriculture exam throughout my school years. It would have been better to teach me about something I’m good at like computers rather than Agriculture…..Has home-science or carpentry ever helped you dear reader, especially if you were poor at the subjects and went on to become a successful blogger or a politician? Has it?   Let us know in the comments section below.

By Feisal Awale

A thinker on matters Kenya, but a layman on matters Education.

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