A story is told in ancient China of a renown physician who was extremely good in his art of healing. From treating Kings and Lords, to treating the common villager. Coming from a family of healers, he was one day asked by his Lord patient -that who among them in the family was the greatest healer? His answer was -that “my eldest brother sees the spirit of sickness and removes it before it takes shape, so his name doesn’t get out of the house. My elder brother cures sickness when it is extremely minute, so his name doesn’t get out of the neighborhood. As for me, I puncture veins, prescribe potions, and massage skin, so from time to time my name gets out and is heard among the Lords.”
Last week, Kenya’s Education Cabinet Secretary -Dr. Fred Matiang’i- released the much talked about KCSE results. Amid mixed reactions -both praises and insults. But majority of Kenyans were in agreement that it was a step forward, in the right direction, when it comes to Education reforms in the Country. For sometime now, the system has been flawed. Leading to massive injustices especially on the part of bright students coming from disadvantaged backgrounds. Evidenced today by little known schools such as Mugoiri girls producing an [A] student in the 2016 results.
So what does the Matiang’i results really mean for our Education system? Looking at it keenly, you would agree with me that the pre-Matiang’i era was a proverbial case of a fish, an elephant, and a monkey being tested on their abilities to climb a tree. But due to lack of INTEGRITY in the system, sometime the fish would climb higher than the monkey. But at least you would find all of them somehow atop the tree. How they got there in the first place, and how they were fairing on, was not a big deal. Now, in this first phase of Matiang’i era, the same fish, monkey and elephant were tested on their abilities to climb the same tree. But since Matiang’i had pumped in some INTEGRITY into the system, only the monkey was able to climb up. The fish and the elephant are still down on the ground. Does this now mean that the fish and the elephant don’t have their unique abilities? What if the monkey also had capabilities to entertain humans in a circus and wanted to be tested on that as opposed to just climbing a tree?
At the time of the release of the 2016 KCSE results last week, some Kenyans took to Social Media describing how ‘academic dwarfs’ can now find their space in the Arts instead of ‘dubiously’ trying to squeeze in into the field of Medicine and the Natural sciences. Now this is where majority of us are not getting it right! A great response was given by Magunga Williams on the same. And I believe in the spirit of shaping the content of our education sector, more and more responses need to be heard.
Let me first start by comparing two Countries -the USA, and South Korea. In terms of literacy levels, the USA, thanks to her education system enjoys very high levels of literacy. Close to 99.99%. South Korea also enjoys high levels of literacy at 97% -not as high as the US. But on the other hand, when it comes to the VALUE the education system pumps into the Society, South Korea comes in top as the US goes straight up to position 14 with a number of Countries between them.
What VALUE does education pump into the respective Society? Remember South Korea is today impeaching her President due to influencing tendering processes through her friend. The Educated population knows that tender influence leads to corruption due to kick-backs, which in turn leads to high costs of doing business, leading to high prices and low purchasing power, leading to reduced savings, and reduced production. And since they are not ready to slide back into a third world Country, those educated folks push for the impeachment of their President without butting an eyelid. That’s the VALUE of education. Which unfortunately, is still uncommon in the Kenyan setting with so many [A] students.
As opposed to just producing numerous A’s, a VALUE based system focuses on how an individual who goes through it produces solutions to existing societal problems. But more fundamentally, discovering which skills this individual posses and what problems can they be prepared to solve?
Myself, going through the 8-4-4 system, I was a straight [A] kid right from nursery. Other than that, I was also the so called “all rounded” kid. Good in books, in sports, in extracurricular activities, and also -to put the icing on the cake- a ladies man. Joined a science oriented Giant high school due to my ‘lethal’ mathematical capabilities. But in a split second, failed to score a straight [A] in my KCSE. A phenomenon that up to now I’ve not been able to quite comprehend. Shuttering my dreams of pursuing an engineering course.
But as fate would have it, I ended up in the Arts -pursuing a course in which I was -and still is- so passionate about- Political Science. Wearing a thick skin and turning a deaf ear to all those dwarfism sentiments. And what really made it worse is that you would find folks, who prior to KCSE, who had never defeated you on any other platform before, shouting the loudest -But I digress.
What’s important here, ladies and gentlemen, reverting back to the story of the Chinese Physician, he did not claim that he was the better healer as compared to his brothers -nor did he deny that indeed he was. But he simply expounded the VALUE and skills each one of them independently had. Therefore, a good Education system should seek to identify skills that the students have, giving them wings to explore their strengths, and at the end, pumping VALUE additives into the society.
I remember back at the University of Nairobi when the Arts students elected me to Chair the Arts Students Association, and by default represent them in the Faculty of Arts Management Board as the only student amidst Professors. I tried to raise this issue of Education. That, was it fair for so much skills and talent to pass through the Education system without being tapped into?
In conclusion, since Kenya’s Economic backbone is agriculture, an Economics student should learn that he/she needs an agriculture student, as much as they both need the IT and engineering students who are trying to improve agricultural technology. But above all, the Education sector should modernize in such a manner that these four student skills are nurtured from a very early age.
But it is not caste in stone that Kenya’s backbone has to be agriculture, it can as well shift to the Creative economy, which today globally is a multi-billion dollar industry. Nigeria is doing it well, and so can Kenya.
Allow me to finish off by paraphrasing the words of Socrates, that as the doctor cures the body, so does a philosopher cures the mind.