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Monday, August 29, 2016

The state of Kenya’s education is grave

That Kenya’s education system is on an inevitable path of calamitous ruin. Between 50-65 percent of teachers in both private and public schools don’t have the basic reading and math skills required to teach grade four pupils. Teachers are absent half of the time they are required to teach. Public universities are short of professors, woefully underfunded and staggered by the winds of mediocrity.

Successive reports by Uwezo, an education advocacy organization, have shown that our children are not learning. One in five children in primary seven do not have primary two competency levels in reading and numeracy.

Our universities lack an overarching purpose for undergraduate education and there is no vision of the attributes of a university graduate. Students have no capacity for critical thinking, analytical and moral reasoning, lack writing, speaking and quantitative skills. About 51 percent of students graduating from our universities lack basic and technical skills needed in the job market. Last year the Judges and Magistrates Vetting Board fired nine magistrates who lacked mastery of basic skills in English language and could not write judgments supported by sound legal analysis and reasoning.

We have turned primary and secondary schools into grade factories. We have put a price on grades and national examinations are no longer reliable measures of students’ ability. A recent survey on ethics and integrity among high school students revealed that a majority of students would do anything, including cheating, to pass their KCSE examinations.

In our universities, grades can be negotiated and paid for in kind or in cash. Students enrolled in part-time postgraduate programs have help on tap to deal with the messy inconvenience of term papers, research, data analysis and dissertation writing. Prominent politicians are enrolled in undergraduate, masters and PhD programs and graduate in record time even without attending classes. Lecturers are indifferent to whether students learn anything. Unspeakable levels of tribalism undermine merit and integrity in hiring of faculty hence, there is a rising tide of mediocrity in our universities. The intellectual, ethical and moral collapse of our universities is nearly complete.

The most durable and dependable capital we have is not oil or gas or wildlife. Moreover, our capacity to compete in a knowledge based globalized economy does not depend solely on the density of paved roads or length of railway or coverage of electric power grid. The education, training and skills we offer our children – the quality of human capital – will determine our place in the league table of nations.

The silly season of politics is here because the general elections will be held next year. The deplorable state of our education will not be a hot button issue in 2017. The election will be fought on the calculus of ethnic alliances and promissory pork for ethnic head chefs.

Our education, the fountain of the inheritance for our children, is on a path of calamitous ruin, and we can only ignore it at our individual and collective peril. Do we have the courage to act?

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