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Will the golden era of our education finally return?

Kimase primary school grader 4 class teacher Ruth Nyandieka shows pupils how to cook. [Sammy Omingo, Standard]

Parents and other stakeholders in education can now exhale, to quote a song by Whitney Houston, ‘Waiting to exhale’. We now know where the junior secondary school will be domiciled.

Where do we get the luxury to keep changing our education system? Every generation of Kenyans seems to go through a different education system.

It’s expensive and distracts us from the key issues; content and experience. We must add one more, over compartmentalisation.

We have argued repeatedly that what really matters is what our children learn, its depth and its relevance to society and the student.

In a recent visit to a school in Germany, I noted that their education philosophy is geared towards educating the whole man so that one can live a more fulfilling life. It’s no wonder I found high school students study philosophy.

Choice is also central to education. Students in Germany are given a very rich curriculum to choose from, further enriching their lives. We often forget that schooling is part of life, not just preparation for life.

How much choice do we give Kenya’s students beyond the compulsory subjects? Even in our universities, choice is limited with students suffering from the uniformity of thought.

Competency-based curriculum (CBC) is envisaged to solve that problem. For it to work, we need a mega project like the standard gauge railway to equip our schools with resources, from music labs to sports facilities. How can we know if a student is talented in music or golf without exposing them?

One of my biggest concerns with frequent changes in the education system is that it confuses the market.

Though graduates of the older system eventually leave the market, their influence lingers. We keep asking who is better, ‘A’ level, 8-4-4 or CBC graduate? It’s worse when graduates of the older system think they are better. This often attenuates the confidence of the graduates of the next system. We seem not bothered much by the unintended consequences of these frequent changes.

Think of brothers and sisters going through a different education system.

Yet we should be asking who is more prepared for life, who is more confident, who is more creative, and who will help make this small planet a better home for us all.

The content is what really matters.

8-4-4 system

What is so urgent about changing the 8-4-4 system? I know some of its graduates who have successfully gone through Harvard, MIT (The Massachusetts Institute of Technology), Oxbridge and other top universities.

We have not heard of any students admitted to Ivy League universities through Equity Bank’s Wings to Fly project being returned home!

Back to CBC. We have not sorted the most important question: what should our kids learn? If we have a say on who should be our president or other leaders, why not what our children should learn? We should have a referendum on any new education system; it’s more important than the political system. A good example: Why do our kids learn about an early man like Zinjanthropus, yet we do not know enough of the living men? Why do we introduce technology so late in the curriculum yet kids grow up with it?

The second big issue in CBC is the experience of our children.

One curious observation about CBC is ‘taking home to school’. Check the student activities.

Should we not be more outward-looking? Why not field trips? What do kids enjoy more than that?

For example, I grew up next to a national park but I did not take a game drive till I was out of the university. Though we see stars every night, how many schools own a telescope?

We are also localising students, keeping them in their villages and hamlets. One can now study from kindergarten to PhD in his or her village. CBC must delocalise our students before we delocalise teachers.

We suggest that all senior high schools in CBC be national schools, with students encouraged to study anywhere in the country.

To encourage that, the State should pay the student’s bus fare, it’s a very small percentage of their learning cost.

We can benchmark with the old education system. Many of my colleagues are very proud of having left their districts to study elsewhere. Earnest Akelo, a statistics expert, left Ahero to study at Njiris High School in Murang’a while Jackson Maalu, a strategy guru, left Kitui to study in Bungoma at Chesamis High School.

I too left my village for Nairobi and its environs - the school’s name will remain secret for security reasons. It used to be even better. After high school, one would go to Makerere, Uganda, or Dar es Salaam in Tanzania, or even abroad for university education.

Good research

Some universities now have a study abroad programme; a semester in another country. Other students take a gap year before campus to explore the world.

Experience has no equal. Content is the easiest to sort in CBC, just put it in the curriculum guided by good research, not emotions.

Experience is expensive but more effective in changing our attitudes and exposing us to realities and new possibilities. And making us entrepreneurs, and building confidence in ourselves.

The experience I got living on a different continent is more valuable than any textbook or journal I will ever read. Many levels in an education system make it expensive to run and lead to late adoption of new ideas or content as the students ‘await’ higher levels. I have noted in the West and East; lots of ideas we teach in the university are introduced much earlier.

Deciding where to domicile junior high school was the easier part. Let’s now focus on the content and experience of the next generation.

That is what will make our graduates globally competitive and turn them into entrepreneurs, innovators and happier citizens.

Finally, who will be our first 8-4-4 president? Will CBC make exams lose their sting?