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Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Kenya, can we be patriotic and ethical?

Kenya is magnificent; ascending from fetching beaches to the imposing majesty of Batian. Then on to the west through the awesome wonder of the Rift Valley, to the vast lake plains to the heightening Elgon of Trans-Nzoia. Ours is an enchanting country.

Kenya does not feel enchanting these days. One gets the feeling of a country on edge. You get a sense of foreboding on our streets, markets and malls. Many of our fellow citizens are afraid and unsure about what tomorrow holds. Today, we are a house divided, battered by storms of greed and corrosive ethnic competition. 

It is obvious today – if the manner in which students handle grievances is any thing to go by – that our schools and universities do little to shape the character and values of the youth. The culture of impunity, greed and tribalism we see in civil society, private sector and in public service is reinforced in the campuses of our schools and colleges.

As a society we value achievement over and above character education and raising ethical and caring children. A large majority of Kenyan parents care more about their kids being competitive, attaining high grades and becoming doctors or engineers. The exam-centric nature of our education is primarily focused on getting children to score high grades in the high-stakes national exam. Teachers will tell you that for parents grade is king, and nothing else matters. This has turned schools into grade factories, undermining the importance of and interest in values.

Parents believe that educational achievement leads inevitably to happiness for their children. But science reveals a contradiction; the ability of children to be empathetic, caring and ethical affects their health and authentic happiness as well as their emotional, social and cognitive development. It has been shown that empathy activates moral reasoning enhances peer inclusiveness and reduces prejudice.

The growing sense of crisis in our country is beginning to erode our confidence. The gush of fury and vitriol we read in social media and hear from politicians is disconcerting. What I read and hear today reminds me that conflict and genocide starts in the minds of men and women.

As vital civil society institutions involved in preparing young people to assume different roles in society, schools and universities have a key role in determining what Kenya will become in the years ahead. As such, education cannot be limited to the traditional mission of training the mind. Our schools and universities must explore and pursue a new core mission of nurturing a new generation of patriots and nationalists, acutely aware of their civic responsibility, inculcating in them empathy, compassion and moral reasoning.

Former Harvard University president, Derek Bok, observed that education is the best means to foster civic commitment and intellectual competence, which citizens need to participate effectively in public life. In my view how we educate our children is critical to fostering inclusive prosperity and preserving our civil liberties.

As Kenya embarks on a major review of the school curriculum, we must remember that developing citizens is the oldest and most important goal of education. Kenya will rise or fall not because of our capacity to raise capital from the Eurobond or whether we look east or west or the scale of our infrastructure or the size of our GDP or the might of our military. The endurance of Kenya’s nascent democracy and the respect we command among nations will depend on the quality of citizenship.
Our best days are ahead because Kenya is the land of our forbears who stood up for liberty and vanquished the tyranny of colonialism. This is the land of the unbowed Nobel laureate who proved that sustainable development and democracy are indivisible. We are the land of the young woman who proclaimed to an adoring world that no matter where you’re from, your dreams are valid. We are the land of men and women of unmatched athletic prowess. And yes, we are the land of the progenitors of a skinny kid with a funny name who believed his country had a place for him too.

And now, more than ever before, Kenya needs patriotic citizens and ethical leaders; a new generation of women and men who are role models of rectitude, who will stand up for freedom, justice and equality. Sound education, through our schools and universities must be the midwife.Ke 

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