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Monday, June 1, 2015

Our schools have become miserable grade factories

Of the 880,486 children who sat KCPE last year 445,981 scored below the average grade. The school system and our society instantly label these children as failures. We wonder if they will ever make anything of their lives.

These children remind me of Albert Einstein and Thomas Edison and countless number of brilliant and creative individuals who were written off by teachers and the school system. In my view, the hundreds of thousands of children who deemed to have failed on account of a grade associated with their name are victims of the education system. They are not failures. The education system has failed them.

The hundreds of thousands of young people who are failed by our antiquated exam-centric education system struggle to hold on to a sense of self-esteem and purpose in life. Sadly, many give up. The children who fail KCPE are not stupid or lazy. They just can’t cope with an outdated system of education. 

Sometimes I am tempted to believe that the hundreds of thousands of children who fail KCPE and KSCE are really the true genius. A majority of the children who pass the national standardized tests prove one thing; they are great at taking a test. They are not necessarily capable of thinking or analytical reasoning. Our schools have become miserable grade factories.

Our education system is antiquated and out of step with what we know about how learning occurs.  Our curriculum should cultivate love for learning and discovery, a sense of playful curiosity and creativity. In the 21st century, and especially with the ICT revolution, content heavy, teacher-dominated and exam-centric models of education are arrogant, limited and irrelevant.

Our education system is antiquated because our children, digital natives, sit in classrooms, where a syllabus, standardized test and the teacher dictate what they learn and how they learn. Our education system does not resonate with the way children think and learn.

Our school system does not get it. The era of educating unthinking obedient natives for a colonial administration is over. Our country needs innovators and entrepreneurs, not just a handful or a few hundreds but in the millions. One or two technology hubs are not sufficient to drive the scale of change that we need. We need to prepare the next generation of ethical public servants, journalists, businessmen, industrialist and philanthropist. 

Moreover, we need to nurture our nascent democracy and build a united nation for all, rising above the petty ethnic nationalities constructed in the image the current crop of politicians. A vibrant and functional democracy demands that citizens can think for themselves, evaluate political manifestos and see beyond hollow political rhetoric.

Given the scale of the challenges we face today; declining agricultural productivity, rapid urbanization, climate change, unemployment and ethnic division, we do not need an education system that prepares reliable employees. What we need is an education system that prepares creative thinkers and problem-solvers.

The 21st century globalized knowledge economy demands more than a heap of examination certificates and proficiency grades. To navigate and thrive in a turbulent 21st century world school must cultivate the habits of mind that enable students to think, to be analytical, collaborative, curious, imaginative, innovative, creative and to cope with uncertainty. We must appreciate the fact that as educators we are preparing children for an unknown future. Thirty years ago not a single professor or teacher could imagine students working in IT. The point is that we are preparing students for jobs that do not exist. Students must leave school or university not elated or depressed with their grades but as inspired lifelong learners.

As educators we must be mindful that much of the so-called knowledge we impart to students will certainly be outdated or irrelevant at the time they begin their careers. The best we can do is to provide than with a capacity to think and the ability to learn, unlearn and re-learn. The education system we inherited from the colonialist has served as well. But it is deficient as a guiding light for navigating the complex and unique challenges of a globalized knowledge economy.

We must shut down the miserable grade factories we have build for our children. Now is the time to reform the education system to leverage the ICT revolution and free our children to think, learn, create and innovate and build a prosperous society.

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