By Billow Khalid
Sometime last month, I gave a talk on academic excellence, career choices at tertiary colleges and universities, and dangers of drug abuse to students in a school in Mandera County.
While addressing the Sheikh Ali High School boys, I was struck by the enthusiasm, great spirit, hope and admiration the 560 boys and teachers of the four-decade-old school.
However, in spite of the school being well located along River Dawa, owning large land and recently designated as a centre of excellence with commensurate budgetary allocation, it was worrying that its average KCSE results have never been of national and local acclaim.
This isn’t specific to Sheikh Ali though. The story is similar in key schools across the region, begging answers to the questions: Are the laws of nature conspiring against the future of our children in this part of the country? What could possibly explain this glaring performance gap between schools in North Eastern and the rest of the country? Every year NEP’s top candidates in KCPE and KCSE rarely appear in top 1,000 nationally.
Mutual high expectations
My key concerns during the talk were about academic excellence, careers in hospitality industry, entrepreneurship, dangers of all kinds of drugs and life after KCSE. It is generally acknowledged that the foundation of superior learning performance are based upon inspired, determined students, dedicated, competent teachers, supportive parents, great resources, labs and enlightened community with visionary local leaders. This is what we call culture of mutual high expectations.
In this, the child is the centre of gravity. It is apparent in the case of NEP schools, somewhere along the chain of mutual high expectations there is a loose or broken link which requires urgent national attention.
Looking at the bright, young faces and having listened to their questions, I got the impression they doubted themselves and did not have great self-confidence.
“We heard that if our schools get many A-grades, our results would be cancelled, even in the Arabic language,” they said.
They also blamed poverty for the schools’ below-average performance.
A local education official Daud Hussein said “low performance in secondary schools can strongly be attributed to weak foundation in the first six years of primary education”.