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We must jail thieves before reforming the education system

By Barrack Muluka | July 21st 2018

The Platonic Academy (428 – 327 BC) was not shy about its profile as an exclusive place. Only the finest of minds were allowed into this space.

An inscription at the entrance read, “Only mathematicians may proceed beyond this point.” It was a sacrosanct place, like the Holy of the Holies in the ancient Church of Jerusalem. Only the initiated were allowed access. Mathematics was, of course, understood in a broader sense than we narrowly perceive it today.

Pythagoras (570 – 495 BC) with his sophisticated theorems was a mathematician. But so, too, was Aristotle with his theories on appreciation of poetry, religion and logic. Plato, with his abstract political thoughts on the ideal world, was also a mathematician. Even Alexander the Great with his military stratagem was a mathematician. 

Those who attended this academy enjoyed a distinct place in society, although some often ran into trouble with the political and religious powers of the day. Their special place remains, however, as they are still points of reference, several millennia later. In his time, Thomas Aquinas (1225 – 1274) had the highest respect and admiration for Aristotle (384 – 322 BC).

In his most refined work titled Summa Theologica, Aquinas extensively relies on Aristotle in his attempt to argue for the existence of God. He filially refers to Aristotle as “The Philosopher.”

Respect, distinction and a special place in society have traditionally been some of the rewards of a good education. The person who has drunk from the fountain of knowledge stands out in comportment and reward. While he does not become grotesquely wealthy, he is spared the painful excesses of penury and indigence.

A good education and poverty must eventually be wide poles apart. So, too, should be a good education and ruffian conduct. Because of the learned person’s capacity to manage his passions, Plato has, in fact, suggested that this person – the philosopher – should be the king. Those whose passions have not been tamed by education should engage in coarser and consuming menial tasks that will exhaust their energies.

The Kenyan academy gravitates away from the traditional marketplace of learning. It is overrun by wild passions that burst into wild fires, consuming the academy. It is no longer the fiery passion and thirst for knowledge that rules the place.

It is the fire of the angry arsonist who yearns to destroy. Are the youthful inmates in these places telling us something we are keen to ignore? Are they telling us that the place is mismatched with reality that awaits them in the real world? Alone in the entire world, Kenya’s boys and girls have become arsonists, setting their academies on fire. Those charged with the authority of overseeing education respond with wild passions of their own.

A university professor tells them on national TV, “You can burn more schools, if you want. You will do your national examinations under trees.”

Another one suggests that boarding schools should be abolished. And yet a third one says all schools should now adopt one uniform across the country – perhaps because he already knows who will supply.

Sancta simplicities! Can even the stones bear to hear this? Who has told our professors that our children care about national examinations anymore? The fires are an indication that our education has failed. The school is itself a prison with a myriad draconian rules. Back in the day, there was only one school rule, “Use your common sense.” The training and prestige that went with it taught you to be a self-respecting lady or gentleman.

There was something admirably distinct about the high school gent or lady, even in a common crowd. Those privileged to get to university were something else. You loved to sit at their feet and drink from the cup of their knowledge. You just loved the way they dressed, their poise and how they put across their thoughts.

Great things waited for all of these people, regardless that they were channeled out of the academy at School Certificate, or after university. Someone planned for their inclusion and relevance. Ask the Department of Planning today how many mechanical engineers the country has and how many we need; and the Director of National Planning has no idea.

Qualified doctors are out there doing “odd jobs” from hospital to hospital, yet we import irrelevant individuals who cannot even take a diagnosis in the village to work as glorified pets in our hospitals.

Elsewhere, a gold-laden individual sits in high public office flaunting his ill-gotten wealth and boasting that he only got a mean score of grade D in High School – with a straight grade E in Mathematics. You look across the country and you see scores of these E graders wallowing in grotesque wealth.

Meanwhile, the High School gent has two elder jobless university graduate siblings at home. He knows of the neighbouring boy who dropped out of school to sell underworld stuff, and how he has become extremely wealthy. And you still expect him to love school?

Something has gone awfully wrong with the Kenyan adult world. The greatest assets out here are the ability to steal and membership in the right networks of thieves. Our children are telling us that the education we are trying to give them does not prepare them to sit well in this world. They are saying that we are wasting their time.

They would sooner be out here, trying to steal like everyone else. Threatening them with exams under trees will not wash. The adult world is in crying need for reform.

The ongoing efforts to flush out the fat rats behind the plague of theft in government must enjoy the support of every patriotic Kenyan. Linking these efforts to tribes and succession games is diversionary. We must jail the thieves and reward effort and education before we can reform the Kenyan academy.

- The writer is a strategic public communications adviser. [email protected]


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