The downside to 100 per cent transition in our schools
By XN Iraki | January 21st 2020
The government’s policy on 100 per cent transition to high school could end up as one of the lasting legacies of the Jubilee government, besides the Big Four Agenda.
It does not matter the grade one got in the Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education (KCSE) examination. The 100 per cent transition reduces crime, other vices and population growth by keeping a million young people busy for four years. The extra years make a difference in a youngster’s life.
How many students would have married and got kids in four years? A counter-argument is that societal problems that were dealt with by the public, including the police, now end up in schools. Some teachers are not prepared for that.
Some problems persist irrespective of the transition rate going up. Highly intelligent students are usually bored by routine, while below-average ones find school meaningless because what’s taught is way above their intellectual capacity.
Teachers find students at the extreme end of the bell curve a challenge to teach. Has the 100 per cent transition considered these groups? Why can’t we have advance placement programmes where bright students in high school take university courses? If we could copy positions of senators and governors from America, why not how to take care of the gifted?
Community colleges in the US take care of those at the lower end of the normal curve.
We look down upon technical and vocational colleges, thinking the only way to be successful in life is to get a degree; it does not matter in what.
To achieve maximum gain from 100 per cent transition, we need to be strategic in imbibing skills and attitudes that will have maximum impact on a student’s life, long after school.
A good education is the best route to national transformation. If we don’t give our students the critical skills, useful throughout their lives and marketable globally, we risk making high school a rite of passage.
For example, can we start teaching coding and technology early in high school?
One outcome of the 100 per cent transition is bigger schools.
Lots of schools have doubled their enrolment in the last five years or so. We now have mega schools with almost 2,000 students. The KCSE results have been exposing such mega schools. To cater for the extra students, the government expanded existing schools.
This begs the question what is the optimal size of a school? How large should a school be? Bigger schools benefit from the economies of scale. The cost of running a school with 2,000 students is lower than running one with 1,000 students.
Parents with a single child know how expensive such a family is compared to one with, say, four kids.
You don’t dim the lights because you have one child or reduce the number of car seats!
It makes economic sense to have bigger schools. But after a certain size, diseconomies of scale set it. The cost of managing the school goes up.
Monitoring many teachers and students is expensive and time consuming.
Students find school unfulfilling and impersonal. Some schools have several deputy principals to help manage the institution. It seems we have schools within schools.
In big schools, students have less time to interact with their peers and teachers, while extra-curricula activities are sacrificed. You increase the chances of students drifting through school.
Competition for resources from bathrooms to sleeping spaces removes the ‘coolness’ from school life. Some could argue, however, that it teaches students about the realities of life. But why do we still think education is preparation for life, not part of life itself?
What is the average size of a school that leads to best outcomes, not just in examinations but wholistically? A quick search shows that the average size of a high school in the UK was 965 in 2018. It is about 752 in the US.
“The ideal size for a high school is between 600 and 900 students,” according to a University of Michigan study presented in 2007.
Small schools are expensive to run and students don’t benefit from social interactions and diversity. Beyond a certain school size, diseconomies set in.
Maybe, it’s time the Ministry of Education issued a policy on the optimal size of schools, including universities.
Without that, schools will keep expanding, leading to ‘anonymous students’.
If we don’t set a limit to school sizes, our students will not learn optimally. Who hates individual attention?
Carey Francis, the legendary Alliance High School headmaster used to even visit students in their homes. When diseconomies of scale set in, we fail to achieve the personal and national objectives of education.
We should start new schools to grow them with the population. The population of Kenya is projected to reach 95 million by 2050. Have we set aside land for schools to cater for double the population? We keep building apartments and no schools.
And why are our primary schools dilapidated compared to universities? Should our primary schools not be better since they deal with more vulnerable members of society?
The hard fact is that our schools are not exempted from the laws of economics.
If we don’t follow these laws we eventually become the victims. How big is your school? What was your experience?
The writer is an associate professor at University of Nairobi
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