The most important thing that you get out of school is confidence. Grades are secondary. They reflect what you did, not what you will do or can do. Grades are backward looking; the reality is forward looking.
That is why we often get surprised by some “low graders” who later become successful in life. Grades or marks would be a great predictor of our future performance if the reality was invariant.
The success of low graders is based on a simple fact, our education is conservative, and ideas often get into classrooms long after the general public. The knowledge has to be packaged in journals and books. By the time the “new” ideas reach the classroom, they are outdated or out of fashion.
And loudly, you can’t make money out of tired old ideas.
That is why connectivity to internet in schools is a great idea. Do teachers use it? Does the curriculum allow? In research, we discourage use of newspapers as sources despite their currency. Yet most ground-breaking ideas are first reported in the media, not textbooks. Back to confidence.
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In reforming our education system, how much emphasis do we put on confidence building among our graduates at every level? It is one area we have performed badly. I would personally prefer a confident C student than an A student without confidence.
My observation, not scientific, seems to suggest that confidence level among Kenyan graduates is waning. The attenuation of confidence among the next generation should worry us even more than Covid-19.
Let us illustrate with a few observations the waning of Kenyan confidence. One is the excitement over Kenyans getting to the helm of big firms such as Safaricom, British American Tobacco (BAT) or East African Breweries (EABL).
Why should that be in the headlines 57 years after uhuru and 125 years since Kenya became a protectorate and got semblance of a nation?
Should a Kenyan heading such firms not be natural? Two is parents taking all their children’s burdens.
They drop and pick them on closing and opening days in secondary schools, they check on their children in the university, for their missing marks and if they go to school. By taking too much care of kids, they lose confidence, because someone can take over their burdens. Adversity emboldens us. Three, unemployment could be the main killer of confidence.
Our generation was assured of a job after graduation, no matter what you studied. Today, getting a job among graduates is more like a lottery.
That is trickling down to lower levels of education. Students, feel they are victims of a hostile economic environment, they learn to be helpless and lose confidence. They want to pass not excel, as one person put it.
Four is the preference of foreign names over our local names, Ken not Ouko, Ethan not Kamau, Jayden not Mutiso, and Michelle not Nanjala.
Your identity should be your number one possession. Giving your kids the names of music, business or film stars indirectly shows they can’t create their own names, they have no confidence to do so. Five is the obsession with degrees and titles. This is what is driving higher education, not love for knowledge or new ideas.
Ever wondered why President Obama or Condoleezza Rice never call themselves professor despite teaching in a university? Being addressed by titles makes one feel good, but exposes the shaky ground on which your confidence stands.
Six, is the separation of the rich and poor in school. We used to be classmates with sons and daughters of cabinet ministers. That gave the poor lots of confidence, they felt they were finally catching up with them.
In the past, the affluent learnt to be confident to safeguard their privileges after interacting with the poor, who learnt of possibilities from the rich. Today, the poor and affluent are separated by a gulf of mystery.
Seven, teachers have noted that the poor are less motivated in school than in the past. Poverty is no longer a motivator. The confidence the poor kids once had is gone replaced by hopelessness. As suggested, unemployment is the main reason they are losing confidence.
Eight is the renewed craze for green cards. We want to leave the country because we do not believe we have the confidence to turn things round.
Nine is the love of leisure over work. We do not believe we shall one day improve on our lives and live a better life espoused by fine things in life from travelling to exotic places to living in leafy suburbs or playing golf or polo.
Is that why corruption is seen as the road to heroism? Ten is focus on lower levels of Maslow’s human needs such as food or shelter. Remember boom days? Eleven is the popularity of mentors. We never used to talk of mentors in the past. We were confident enough to mentor each other, listen to teachers and our parents, not third parties.
Mentors, some self-imposed are filling a vacuum in confidence. Why popularity of mentors when so much information is available for free?
Twelve is awarding contracts to foreign companies believing they will do better than us?
What of imports which make us believe we can’t make anything? What of our love for downgrading others at home, in school and at workplace?
When did your colleague or boss last praise you for work done? Graduates without confidence will not compete in starting new enterprises or expanding the existing ones. The will not be creative or innovative. This will damage the long-term competitiveness of any nation.
Such non-confident young men and women will be afraid of leaving the comfort of their homes, yet globalisation despite Covid-19 will return. We are even bored of global issues, space is the next frontier - vast and endless.
Do we have the confidence to get there? Confidence building among the next generation should be one of the top agendas in post-Covid-era.
-The writer is an associate professor at the University of Nairobi