ith the turn of the year always comes the opportunity for a fresh, new perspective, a period of solemn oaths to eschew the errors of the previous year. More often than not it is a time not just to get new calendars but to formulate audacious, fresh resolutions with a clear goal to achieve them this time round. But apparently someone was caught flip-flopping and flailing trying to grope at the by-gone. It is none other than the Kenyan Cabinet Secretary for Education, Amb. Amina Chawahir Mohamed. In Roman mythology there existed the god; Janus, a two-faced deity of beginnings and duality. January was ostensibly named after this god as it holds the special position of not just being a time to reminisce about the previous year but also to yearn of the promise of the impending one. But my comparisons of Amb. Mohamed with Janus have nothing to do with promise but unfortunately with an egregious immersion into the mire of ambivalence albeit indecision. The lady was caught in two minds between flagging off the implementation of the new, progressive curriculum vis-à-vis pandering to the inertia of the status-quo and cleave to the old, predictable one just for a little longer. She was even called to task by a Parliamentary Committee on Education to explain this insipidly awkward turn of events, to which with a sleigh of the hand she just shooed away waxing lyrical about her right to change her mind even if it were “a thousand times a day.” Philosophical as she was, I do not in any way envy her in this dilemma but it’s one any incumbent CS would have had to have. But I personally would have desired to see a more resolute commitment to a predetermined and solidified policy position if not for any other docket on matters education. In public discourse, opinion was tectonically split down the middle. Thanks to the aforementioned conjecture, there was a school of thought by the conspiracy theorists that money had changed hands and as such forced the CS’s hand to revert to a position she had previously deferred for at least a year. In aversion of conflict, I chose to believe in her inalienable right to exercise her volition consequent to authority that stems from her auspicious office. But that is neither here nor there.
No one could ever put it better than the sages of yore who postured that the only constant in life is change a hyperbolic contradiction no less. In the fullness of time we had to get to a juncture where we streamlined our systems with not just best practice but with globally acceptable standards. Due to rapid technological advancements and a transition from the archaic way of life to the modern, chalk circles are gradually getting blurred expanding the planet to merely a global village. Business Process Outsourcing, shared infrastructure, cloud-hosting, co-location, pitch decks and cross-border collaborations are the new buzz words everyone now utters at every twist and turn. With the liberalization of markets and opportunities for career manifestation, Kenya has no option but to tailor itself to global trends on the same. The dictates of the anthropic principle are that a day would come when someone intelligent enough would arise to pop the question, why do we need to make a transition from the old to the new, competence-based curriculum? Each of the aims are noble and as such I will itemize them:
- Tooling of the future generation to become productive and conscientious citizens able to take their right of place in the world with pride, professionalism and confidence.
- To build a set of future leaders as all-rounded personalities that cherish co-operation, independence, inspiration, proactivity, focus able to apply their know-how if not in employment then in their own self-initiated businesses.
- Promotion of the contradictory aims of both patriotism & globalization equipped with skill, competence, attitudes, puissance and a value-set to thrive anywhere in the World-wide-web that their odyssey of life will spin for them in their pursuit of sustenance but keeping the dignity and esteem of their rich cultural heritage.
- Enable Peer-to-Peer co-operation globally, an excellent result of digitization and technology advancement that has fomented digital literacy.
- A new consciousness that promotes appreciation of extra-curricular means to sustenance like art, sports, music and film that are a very lucrative employer in the developed world.
There is an oft-touted adage that, ‘learn a skill today so that you earn from it tomorrow’. This is a universally accepted norm that education furnishes upon humanity. Personally, I am not so well versed on what the new curriculum will entail in view of the fact that I may not have been personally engaged in whatever multi-sectoral forum the education stakeholders in this country have had. However, as one nursing ambitions of one day being a father, I have a dream that my expectations of a progressive education system will come to fruition. If not for any other reason, merely to furnish my progeny with all the opportunities for the attainment of their full potential I may have missed on. The 8-4-4 Education System had its moments for effectively tooling human capital but glaring lacunae existed that going forward will have to be addressed.
To set the ball rolling youth unemployment, underemployment, depravity and misery have been the unfortunate destiny many of my compatriots have had to grapple with. What is learnt in school and the realities of the Job market and industry exist in mutual exclusion to each other. Employers complain about their apprehension about hiring fresh graduates due to a mismatch between their pedagogical development and the requirements of Industry. Indeed, there is an episode of jest going round that in school you will spend so much time learning about calculating the mass of the sun only to leave school and realize no-one cares about the mass of a source of light that has existed for eon instead there is a greater need for solar panels to harness the same sunlight! So much theoretical knowledge is gained that you question not just if you will ever have sufficient days in your life to expend it all for your benefit but wherein? From the job market stem a torrent of complaints about employers having to spend at least two-years re-tooling fresh graduates to the needs of the workplace some of whom may have spent as much as 6 years to earn that under-graduate degree in University. This is a clarion call to the KICD, NITA, Individual Universities, Professional Bodies, Industry and the Ministry of Education to work in tandem while developing policy frameworks for human capital development. Plenty of good men and women find themselves feeling frustrated, disenfranchised if not down-right robbed when after many years in school, graduate only to find out they cannot secure a job because employers say they did not get the requisite skill from a course that ostensibly was supposed to offer the same. A few were given banal tasks not concomitant with their aspired competency outcome during industrial attachment and internships. Others still because they studied a course not recognized by the respective professional licensing and regulation bodies of their fields. Many more studied using a curriculum not approved by KICD for Kenya. Let’s not even talk about tribalism, gender discrimination, nepotism, sex-for-jobs scandals and other impediments to getting a job in Kenya that no doubt leave a myriad of professionals ill at ease. We need tales of hope.
A crucial stricture I hold is to make Entrepreneurship a compulsory subject / course throughout one’s learning process. Many a time I see great business moguls who created empires beyond even their own wildest imaginations with little or no education and I am cerebrally cajoled to query if only they had the slightest shred of formal training on business and best practice coupled with their innate aptitude where would they be? As such going forward I postulate the above mentioned solution. Ironical as it is the fact that incidentally many are the graduates that haven’t an inkling how or where to monetize their long-polished areas of expertise from university. You see many tarmacking into disillusionment and oblivion looking for jobs yet the truth is that within them is ensconced that boss they seek to employ them. From a young age teach children to become creators, free-thinkers, producers, solutions-architects not dependent on anybody but themselves to drive the cogs of the gear that is their future prospects. Competence is built from consistent practice and if from a young age when the mind is still nimble, one is mentored to develop an appreciation for the value of a skill by the time he becomes an adult he would be a virtuoso and would never depart from the well-beaten mental tracks of routine for all time. I urge Academic Policy makers to re-evaluate the existing structure and have Entrepreneurship as Plan A not something to do after wasting the idealist phase of your life looking for that office job that we all know you won’t find. If available it is not in a critical mass sufficient to cater for all the new entrants into the job market annually. In the backdrop of constrained employment places & many Graduates who can’t monetize their skill, failing to nurture a business psyche from a young age is tantamount to breeding poverty. Poverty will in turn wrought inequality, the working poor, sorrow, destitution, social upheaval, drug abuse and ultimately the double whammy of terrorism & violent crime. A responsible Government must never allow its future to be sucked into this unsightly and soul-sapping wormhole in their full-knowledge.
Modern trends have birthed the concept that Mentorship is just as important as learning and know-how acquiescence. Many entrepreneurs, business leaders and seasoned professionals are a precious repository of knowledge that can potentially help future generations reach their presumptive destinations faster. Learning from the masters who have been there and done that can never be gainsaid for all who aspire to fill the shoes of these titans in years to come. Mentorship by an expert baker who had to change various ingredients, whole recipes, ovens, even burn many cakes before finally hitting the sweet-spot of near-perfection is the most valuable and irreplaceable gift you can give to a budding baker. Going forward all schools should have career days where those who have made it in life cross-pollinate with potential scions to the empires they intend to replicate and be advised accordingly. As the saying goes iron sharpens iron. An honest learning experience from one who has been there and done that by far supersedes theoretical information gained in the classroom majorly parlayed by a tutor who may themselves never have been part any of the hands-on process in the attendant fields and as such has no real-life experiences to offer. There are excellent coaches who have never themselves played the game. However, let’s live with the nuances of the proverb, ‘experience is the best teacher.’
I submit that any meaningful process for Education system review in Kenya must cater for the holistic individualized talents of the students it seeks to address. An abridged look into past experiences with Education systems in Kenya paints a picture of a concerted preoccupation with nurturing albeit elevating one form of intelligence above all others, the academic and cognitive erudition (book-smarts). Those who excelled in school were deemed the intrepid manifestation of humanity that virtually had the world at their feet. But introspection and insight from books like ‘Frames of Mind (1983)’ by Howard Gardner paints the picture of many differently-abled variants of genius. There are those in possession of:
- Linguistic flair.
- Spatial (Visual) artists.
- Logical-Mathematical Thinkers.
- Kinesthetically gifted.
- Musical virtuosos.
- Interpersonally intelligent.
- Intrapersonal Intelligence.
Hindering one from aggressively pursuing their niche from a young age is equivalent to caging your child’s potential and dooming him to a future of subservience to others. You curtail their joy of life and cap their future earning potential when you think that book-smarts are the only way to go. As a matter of fact, from Sir. Alex Fergusson’s autobiography we learn that he doesn’t regard his former superstar Wayne Rooney as the ‘Sharpest tool in the shed.’ Academically this guy was out of his depth but ultimately we have all been regaled with his football playing capabilities and a coterie of exquisite goal-scoring skills. Talk about kinesthetic genius at play. Everyone has his special artistry which if whetted they will virtually never work a day in their lives as a consequence of enjoying what they do and perpetuating their passion which is basically living the best versions of themselves. They will perform in front of kings and queens and earn acclaim. We have all borne witness to how exorbitantly the western world pays their musicians, movie stars, sportsmen, architects, sculptors, photographers, career coaches as compared to what used to be the traditional careers that every kid was pushed towards by their parents. With globalization these opportunities are available even to Kenyans, and more than any other time we have role models like Victor Wanyama, Macdonald Mariga (Football), Lupita Nyong’o (Film), Daniel Adongo (NFL) among many others to hold up to future generations. The competence-based curriculum must identify one’s strength and sharpen it early in life so that by the time you become a young adult you can easily have the confidence to take on the world and its challenges and do all that pertains to the attainment of your long-cherished dexterities.
With the new system I pray for an end to this vexation that is the preoccupation with coaching students for examinations as opposed to actual broad-based learning. In our time, acing the examination was the Holy Grail and all stops were pulled to ensure a student gets good grades, constrained learning notwithstanding. Rote-learning as opposed to actual mastery of subject matter was the order of the day which is actually reprehensible because many are the high performing students who lack even the basics of critical and analytical thinking not to say any form of mastery of the coursework they were supposedly studying. Many forget all they learnt after the exam as for most part their minds were forced to play the role of a sponge that absorbs so much fluid rapidly but with slight pressure releases it all with little or almost nothing retained going forward. In Kenya this system had brought forth an intricate web of examination cheats and was a thriving business. My worry then was if integrity was not enforced in the academic process, how the hell are you going to produce upright citizens who uphold professional ethics and thus have virtue inculcated within the structure of their being? When Dr. Fred Matiang’i was made the Education Cabinet Secretary many cartels for this perversion were smashed and as such meritocracy found its way back to society. As variously stated corruption fights back, court injunctions were flashed around but ultimately sleaze was dealt a death-knell and the much-vaunted ‘fruits of one’s labour’ found precedence as a way of life.
In penultimate remarks I would urge the formulators of the new curriculum to never forget the importance of our historical figures who made great contributions to our nationhood. Pre-independence freedom fighters, the Mau Mau, heroes of the second liberation & multi-partism in Kenya and environmental champions should not just be a footnote but have whole chapters of history dedicated to them. Also heroes of the global negritude movement and black emancipation from slavery like Toussaint Breda and François Mackandal should never be forgotten. These are the real men and women worth their weight in gold and as such we must hold them up to our children as examples of what we expect of them in future. The veracity of the statement that those who fail to learn from history risk repeating its errors and missteps must ring ever so true. A dearth of eminent personalities worthy of emulation exposes our children to the vagaries of the TV culture that in the current state portrays the leading lights of the day as nothing more than delinquent leaders who go as low as hiding marijuana in their socks to smoke it in the sanctums of parliament. Is this the future we envisage for our sons and daughters? If not, then equip them to idolize sanctified epitomes of virtue. Failure to include tutelage on our own history exposes our future generations to mental slavery and doctrines to the effect that other people are superior human beings to them when in actual sense that is a whole sack of poppycock. We could wheel our children unknowingly back into servitude at the altar nothingness and all because of devaluing their own national heroes which is just imbecile grease.
In Conclusion as the great figure of African emancipation; Nelson Mandela, once put it Education is the most potent weapon that can be used to change the world. We must also live in the cognizance that after surmounting the hill of education there are many more to climb. Let’s not allow poorly-formulated strategy on Education to widen further the divide between the haves and have-nots and break the limbs of our own children. Instead empower them with education that like wings will enable their flight soaring far above anything they have ever dreamt of. As empirical wisdom mandates there is not a cap to human potential but only shackles of the mind and as such we should aspire to lose any that exists.