The Education System We Need
By Dr Evelyn Jepkemei
Every regime in Kenya since colonial times has tried to tinker with the education system. The colonialists divided education into grammar (elite) clerical (for Asians) and vocational (for Africans) segments to serve their interests.
Kenyatta the Senior came in and brought in changes advanced initially by Ominde and Co. and others later. We ended up with a system that many complained was too focused on non-existent white collar jobs.
Exit Kenyatta, enters Moi. Moi decided the way to go about addressing the weaknesses of the previous dispensation was to copy-paste a Canadian system that we have now come to call 8-4-4. The system was chaos. It’s introduction was rushed, it was resource intensive and teachers were unprepared. The system collapsed under its own weight.
By the time 1999 review prescribed by the Koech Commission, changes had been made to the extent that the system had completely morphed into an eclectic mix of many disparate components of past systems.
Although Kibaki did not replace the system, he introduced the FPE which in some ways was a balm to the wounds inflicted by cost sharing policies introduced via the Kamunge commission. However the surge in numbers had our classes bursting at the seams and the quality of education plummeted.
For some reason politicians feel the need to tinker with the education system in order to leave a legacy that affects every family. Granted, education is a political process. Each political party (or person ) in power essentially would want to use polity and resources to advance ideologies of its party or political persuasion or philosophy.
In the west there is a constant tension between conservative view of functional education and the more left leaning view of liberal education.
The problem in our case is our politicians do not have an ideological persuasion- ours is politics of eating and tribe.
So if we are changing the system, given our political lack of guiding philosophy, our only refuge would be to listen keenly to the people of Kenya. To honestly assess their aspirations for the current and future generations. That way we can find a philosophy.. and from many years of studies, our philosophy in Africa is Ubuntu. Ubuntu would make us thrive.
If I were to advise this government on what to do with education I would say strengthen the philosophy of Ubuntu. Build education on roots of African socialism and kinship. I would go back to the aspirations of our founding forebears- Nyerere, Mandela, Nkuruma, Lumumba… Sankara, Maathai.. name them…
I would advise Uhuru Kenyatta to ensure that we anchor our education on stakes of pragmatism under the tent of Ubuntu. He Would use the golden chance of time and opportunity to give African countries an education prototype. I would ask Uhuru to commission research projects and test interactions between various components and honestly examine the evidence, take time to prepare the curriculum, the teaching materials, infrastructure and the teaching service.
Certainly, this might take more than two presidential terms, but it would provide a solid foundation for system change. But perhaps it would be the most valuable work of all political systems combined.
The current system change is not clear in its philosophy- well maybe it is- (education for plumbing?) and it’s implementation is going to continue being nightmarish. But the icing on the cake will be in the results after implementation; and it’s impact in the future generations.
Just so it’s clear, there is no education system that solves the problem of unemployment. The economy does that. When the economy expands, opportunities for employment arise. When the economy contracts it won’t matter how many plumbers (in a manner of speaking) you have… there will be no piped water, thus no work for plumbers. Kenyans need to disabuse their minds about the mantra that everyone will have a job as a result of CBC. Think national debt hitting the ceiling and the health our economy.
The work of building an education system must encompass all aspects of our lives- culture, economy, history, pedagogy, sociology, pediatrics, nutrition, psychology, name it. It’s not just about skills… and jobs. It’s about our ability to impart humanity to the rising generation.
On this count we have failed. We have ignored all the steps that take us to a functional system that creates humans. Like Julia and Winston in George Orwell’s 1984, we are the the dead.
Francis Imbuga reminded us of the dangers of name changing as development priority in Kafira: “It was better while we waited. Now we have nothing to look forward to. We have killed our past and are busy killing our future. “ Sigh.
Let me, with Alan Paton Cry my beloved country: ‘Cry, the beloved country, for the unborn child that is the inheritor of our fear. Let him not love the earth too deeply. Let him not laugh too gladly when the water runs through his fingers, nor stand too silent when the setting sun makes red the veld with fire. Let him not be too moved when the birds of his land are singing, nor give too much of his heart to a mountain or a valley.’
For those who know, you know.