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Vital issues in face of new dawn in education system

By Levi Obonyo
Friday, February 12th, 2021
Education Cabinet Secretary, Prof George Magoha.
In summary

The changes launched in the education sector are very important. They shift the emphasis on exams, that Kenya has had over the years and upend the standard annual ritual, where the country waits anxiously for the exam results to be released and start scanning news media for which school topped the list.

The other interest has been on the best girl, the best boy, their pictures and the celebrations by their families, their schools and their communities.

Then the best schools would select the best performing learners  and the worst schools remain with the worst performers to entrench the cycle of privilege and disadvantage.

There is little in the system we are moving away from, that helps the poor performing students to improve.

The system emphasises memory in exams and privileges the power to recall. It is little wonder that for years, our examination system has been riddled with alleged malpractice against which the Kenya National Examination Council has wrestled with mightily.

But now the emphasis should shift away from what a learner can recall in a span of frozen time.

Ideally, this stretched time of assessment within which 60 per cent of the final accumulated score is earned, should allow the learner to self-correct in the course of time, instances of bad performance could allow for a change of course and direction, and hopefully better performance in subsequent assessments.

This system thrusts the teacher forcefully in the assessment function. The teachers collectively observe the learner, notes the areas of excellence for emphasis and where correction is necessary, and works with the learner to change course where such may be needed.

Given the prominent role the teacher is playing in the new system, it is imperative that Kenya must reconsider her relationship with the teacher. Kenya treats her teachers with too much disdain.

Other societies task their brightest with the responsibility of shaping their nation’s young minds but the emphasis is laid elsewhere in Kenya.

Listen to Kenyan students in exit interviews and you will be hard pressed, to find any instance where the brightest ever wanted to go back to the classroom to shape the minds of the future.

Yes, they want to be pilots, medics, legal minds, engineers, consultants, politicians and all that; and that is fine, but hardly would any choose to join the teaching profession.

The reasons for his are not hard to find: the Kenyan society has little respect for those entrusted with the responsibility of shaping the minds of tomorrow.

We pay our teachers poorly, and even that poor pay has to be extracted painfully from the system, through protests on the streets which diminish the standing of teachers in the perception of the general public, but more critically, in the perception of the children that are supposed to look up to them.

This should change in the regime of the new system. Treat teachers, all the way from the pre school to the university, with respect and dignity. Reward teachers well – it is as simple as that.

This has hardly been factored in discussions so far. Instead, we have focused on the curriculum, tests and facilities.

The other concern that has not featured prominently is how the new changes affect our relationship with our partners in the East African Community, with regard to student exchange and student admissibility across borders. 

Uganda and Tanzania, among others, have stayed true to the system they implemented after independence.

Kenya has been restless shifting from one system to the other. As a member of the Inter-University Council of East Africa, Kenya participates in policy formulation and in the educational programs of the community, but can’t participate effectively if the systems do not compare.

That will starve our universities of students from the rest of East Africa and will make it difficult for our students to join other academic institutions in the region.

Policy makers must speak to this. — The writer is dean, School of Communication, Daystar University

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