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Education, for all its intends and purposes, is a mental conditioning process.

In extreme scenarios, as is the case with totalitarian regimes, education is indoctrination, a means to brainwash the masses, when they are still young and impressionable, to grow up exalting the bogey man. The syllabus will be designed to portray him as a paragon of sorts. This is the case in North Korea today.

In normal scenarios, however, education is designed to meet a defined set of needs (mostly in line with a needs assessment report). A review could be done say every five years to continuously align it with the dynamic needs. 

That’s why it is not prudent to have school children dance and sing praise songs for politicians. You are technically conditioning them to be subservient to power, never to question it. You are essentially telling them that politicians should be exalted. You’re basically training robots. Lyrical sycophants, not thinkers who can question and put leaders to account. 

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Any education system or curriculum has the ideal end product in ‘mind’. That’s why a curriculum should have a philosophical underpinning, and all indicators must be designed to achieve this.

From the training of the curriculum implementers (the teacher) to teaching and learning resources. It is, therefore, a no brainer that every teaching and learning resource must be given careful consideration and scrutiny. Teaching and learning resources – books, media and other digital assets used for acquiring and exploring knowledge – are the tools used for the mental conditioning process that is education. They determine what you know and how you perceive and navigate around issues. Basically, your thinking.

In an inquiry/skill/competence-based curriculum like the one we are tumultuously rolling out, textbooks do not necessarily play such a critical part.

Critical thinking

A teacher’s creativity in designing engaging activities and crafting high order questions to trigger critical thinking in students is more important and critical.

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But be that as it may, we still work with textbooks as a guiding light. Literature, particularly, demands the use of set texts or class readers for the context in the analysis. 

It is for this reason that the Ministry of Education has come under fire for the kind of reading materials it allows into the market. Materials considered not only substandard but downright unacceptable. This is due to contents that these materials carry, but most importantly the kind of diction therein. 

A while back, there was furore over a section in a social studies textbook used in Kiambu County which seemed to profile communities living there based on their supposed economic activities and status.

While some communities were portrayed to be wealthy, enterprising and industrious, others were portrayed to be poor and unimaginative, slogging in tea, coffee or flower farms. An impressionable mind reading this will swallow it line, hook and sinker, and the damage will be difficult to undo. They will be conditioned to look down on the said tribes, and have a misguided sense of superiority. That is how powerful education is.

On Wednesday this week, social media was abuzz over a Class Six book titled Blood Ties written by South African author Zimkhitha Mlamzeli and published by Story Moja. A parent noticed that a section of the book describing a rape scene was laden with explicit language, peppered with cuss words.

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The rape scene alone could make an adult shudder, and the cuss words could make them cringe. Therefore, it is disturbing to imagine what effect this could have on an impressionable mind of a Standard Six kid.

Good judgement

Little wonder then that we have cases of hyper-aggressive kids spewing vitriol, cussing and threatening not only their peers but also grown-ups (a Cabinet Secretary no less).

This class reader debacle is a stark pointer to gross over-sight on the teacher’s part -- a good literary text, even when exploring matters sex, will be coded, leaving the details to your imagination. Allowing readers to decode for themselves.

The teacher should have taken cognizant of this, employed good judgment and refused to use the book. The buck stops at the Kenya Institute of Curriculum Development, the entity mandated to vet such resources. And any teacher, either in public or private school, who exposes learners to ‘adults only’ content must be punished.

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We are commercialising education too much to the detriment of the Kenyan child. We must be careful not to condition our children, through education, to perceive immorality and any form of violence as acceptable social norms.

- The writer is an International Buccaneer educator

Blood Ties Zimkhitha Mlamzeli Story Moja Education

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