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Monday, March 7, 2016

Invest in learning to improve transition rates

I would like to congratulate all the 522,870 students who sat KCSE in 2015. I am also mindful that there are 5,101 students whose results were cancelled. Most of us cannot even begin to imagine how they feel. The industrial scale cheating witnessed in last year’s national examinations dented the credibility of Kenya’s education.

Our assessment system does not pass muster. Personally, I am not satisfied that we have done enough to get to the bottom of the crisis in our education system. Parents are not blameless here.  We need drastic measures to redeem credibility of our education.

But let us assume that cheating or other forms of irregularities involving about one percent of the candidates does not inflict grievous harm to the integrity of trustworthiness of KNEC or our education system. About 21 percent of the KCPE class of 2011 scored a C plus grade and above in KCSE and will, hopefully, proceed to university. Let me say this in another way. Only 13 percent of the standard one class of 2004 qualifies to go to join university. Bear in mind that the 522,870 who sate KCSE are only 42 percent of the of the 1,252,400 children who joined standard one in 2004. As we celebrate the achievements of the KCPE class of 2014 does anyone think about the 729,530 boys and girls who did not complete primary school or transitioned to high school?

I will repeat this. Only 42 percent of the standard one class of 2004 completed high school. The fate of 58 percent or 729,530 who have no high school education remains unknown. But they are about 19 years old this year. Only 13 percent of the 2004 class, which is the second cohort of free primary education, will join university. Fellow Kenyans and esteemed readers, I think this is a veritable human capital tragedy. This is a disaster.

The transition rates in our education system, 42 percent and 13 percent, are shameful. The transition rates are deplorable and unconscionable in a knowledge-intensive economy. In fact many now believe that we are on the cusp of a post-knowledge economy, which only make matters worse for hundreds of thousands of Kenyan children, especially because we are in live in a globalized world.

These terribly low transition rates from primary school to secondary and from secondary to college are a powerful indictment of our education system. Something needs to be fixed urgently. Let me be a little dramatic here just to make a point. Imagine that our education system was an airline company called Fly 844 and that our transition rates were a flight safety record. We fly in two parts to our final destination. Our safety record on the first leg is such that six out of 10 planes fall of the sky. On the last leg only 13 percent of our flights land safely.

Obviously, an airline company with such an atrocious safety record would be out of business in a couple of days. I should have mentioned that even when our children complete university they struggle to find work not just because jobs are hard to find but also because potential employers say they are not up to up to snuff. Moreover, students who enter university are often ill prepared for self-directed or independent learning. The bad habits of rote learning acquired throughout primary and high school are hard to shake off.

Perhaps you are wondering if things are really that bad. I think we are in trouble. We are throwing away the future of this country by failing to make effective investments in education. I have said before that many credible studies have shown that the problem with our education is not the syllabus or infrastructure or technology.

The problem is that 50-65 percent of teachers in both private and public schools don’t have basic reading and math skills required to teach grade four pupils. The problem of awful teachers is compounded by chronic absenteeism in public schools. A service delivery indicator report released by the World Bank shows that our teachers are absent half of the time they are required to teach.

The future of this country is in the tender hands of our children. We must stop this reckless plunder of our future and invest to improve transition rates in our education system. We owe our children a better country.

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