In March this year the Judges and Magistrates Vetting Board fired nine magistrates. These magistrates were not under investigation for allegations of corruption or professional malpractice. This is unprecedented, especially in a criminal justice environment that is infested with corruption and other vices.
Why were the magistrates fired? The Judges and Magistrates Vetting Board found that the magistrates had no mastery of basic skills in English language and could not write judgments that were based on sound legal analysis and reasoning. This is simply mind-blowing.
According to Senior Counsel Paul Muite, the problem with writing and competent legal reasoning is understated. Law Society chairman Eric Mutua believes that incompetence among judicial officers is at the heart of the problem. According to Ahmednasir Abdullahi, a prominent lawyer, to say that lawyers are half-baked would be a compliment. In his view most lawyers cannot answer the one-plus-one of law.
Mr. Abdullahi argues that the problem of poor writing and the lack of intelligent legal discourse has its origin in law school. According to Mr. Abdullahi our so learned friends are rather incurious and do not read widely after they start professional practice. Personally, I find the shelves in the offices of lawyers and doctors rather barren. But I always assume they keep their books in their home libraries.
Mr. Muite believes that the problem with language competency is not unique to lawyers. In his view it is not uncommon to find a university graduate who is challenged in basic use of English language. I would also add that the problem of professional competence is not unique to the legal profession.
Every one has a physician story; ranging from unnecessary tests to wrong diagnosis and wrong course of treatment or horrible execution of an intrusive procedure. Look around your house or office building; more often than not the quality of construction is appalling. If you own a car you must have a mechanic story. You all must have incompetent teacher and professor stories. There are countless shocking examples of incompetence across a wide range of professional fields.
Think about the quality of leadership in public service, in the private sector and in civil society. Our schools and universities are badly managed. Our political parties are shambolic. The quality of debate in parliament is wanting. Tune into local television and radio stations or follow social media conversation on national issues; the quality of public discourse is abominable.
The high levels of incompetence across a wide range of professions do not bode well for our society. I think the chickens have come home to roost. This is the bounty harvest of years of neglect and underinvestment in public education. The obsession with an exam-centric curriculum, which is driven by rote learning is now coming back to bite us.
I argue that the levels of incompetence we are seeing among professionals is what you reap from an education system that demands nothing of the playful curiosity of learners and fails to build and nurture critical thinking meaningful learning. An exam-centric system, which privileges mindless regurgitation in high-stakes standardized tests stifles curiosity, kills imagination, trashes analytical reasoning, and pulverizes lifelong learning.
Professional incompetence and mediocrity are creatures of a flawed and antiquated education model. What we have done over the last half century is train incompetent individuals who go off to breed even more incompetent individuals. A study by the African Population and Health Research Centre revealed that 30 percent of Kenyan children are taught math by teachers who can hardly score 40 percent in a math knowledge assessment.
It is therefore hardly surprising that successive reports by the education advocacy organization UWEZO have shown that despite a huge surge in primary school enrollment, our children are not learning. Moreover, study conducted by the Inter University Council of East Africa and in partnership with the East African Business Council revealed that more than 45 percent of our university graduates are not employable.
Kenyans have an insatiable hunger for paper credentials. We are falling over ourselves in colleges taking evening classes for one more certificate or diploma or degree. But these have little bearing on competence or productivity. This epidemic of incompetence undermines our economy, chokes future prosperity. And it must end.
This next round of education reform must ensure that teaching and learning translates into relevant and useable competences, not just qualifications on paper.