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Why Kenyan schools are wrong about failure

By Henry M. Bwisa | January 13th 2017
Billionaire Ray Kroc never went to school and spent most of his life working as a salesman. He bought McDonald’s in 1961 for $2.7 million and grew it into a multi-billion-dollar company.PHOTO: COURTESY

My opinion on the KCSE examinations carried by this esteemed paper on January 2, 2017, has solicited lots of feedback. I have been asked to elaborate on entrepreneurship.

An examination is an evaluation. And a student evaluation is an assessment of the service provided by the school, be it solely in the classroom or of all aspects of the learning experience.

The grades obtained by students should be feedback about all aspects of the learning experience provided by the school. This is sometimes called the total student experience.

A lot of information is hidden in the grades students get. The first is a judgement about whether or not students learned the knowledge or skill taught.

Second is to inform the teachers about their teaching and how to do it next. There is some information that is deeply hidden though, including - was this the best evaluation of the students?

In Kenya, as in many other countries, children are taught that low grades or no grades is failure; a bad thing. When pupils and students do poorly in tests given at school, they receive failing grades. They are then considered fools and good-for-nothing fellows. Parents even punish children for bringing home a report card with low marks.

There are many quotes about failure. Napoleon Hill, author of 'Think and Grow Rich' believes that “every failure carries with it a seed of equal or greater benefit”.

Thomas A. Edison, the man who tried many times before he succeeded in inventing the light bulb, is quoted to have said the following about his trials, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”

British statesman Winston Churchill, who was the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1940 to 1945 and again from 1951 to 1955, said, “Success is stumbling from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm.”

Bill Gates, who co-founded Microsoft, which became the world’s largest PC software company, and who is one of the best-known entrepreneurs of the personal computer revolution said it is fine to celebrate success but it is more important to heed the lessons of failure.

And finally, Bruce Lee who was an actor, martial artist, philosopher, filmmaker, and founder of the martial art Jeet Kune Do, advised: “Don’t fear failure. Not failure but low aim is the crime. In great attempts it is glorious even to fail."

The message being given is that failure is simply a way something “won’t work”. Failure is not “lack of success”, it is part of the process of trial and error. Parents and teachers should therefore use failure to encourage children to create new ways to accomplish their goals and learn from their mistakes.

History has a number of examples of people who failed at school but went on to become millionaires. Thomas Edison was labelled dumb and a scatterbrain by his school teachers but he went on to become one of the world’s greatest inventors and founded General Electric; one of the most powerful companies in the world.

Automobile billionaire Henry Ford was born in abject poverty. He never saw the four walls of a classroom but he went on to build Ford Motor Company and become one of the richest men that ever lived.

Walt Disney, regarded as the most influential animator because of his creativity with cartoons, dropped out of high school at 16 and founded Walt Disney - a company that now has an annual revenue of about $30 billion.

Billionaire Ray Kroc never went to school and spent most of his life working as a salesman. He bought McDonald’s in 1961 for $2.7 million and grew it into a multi-billion-dollar company.

Andrew Carnegie, industrialist and philanthropist and one of the first mega-billionaires in the US, was an elementary school dropout. Nigeria and Africa’s richest woman, Folorunsho Alakija, revealed that she did not go to university but that did not stop her from making it in life and achieving her goals.

In her last year of high school, Oprah Winfrey was enrolled in drama class. Staff from a local radio station saw her perform and asked her to read on radio. She was then encouraged to apply for a job reading the news.

Not only did she get the job, but Oprah entered a public speaking contest that offered a scholarship to Tennessee State University.

Teachers need to arm pupils with a mind-set that tells them that there are two routes to success in life: the wage employment route and the self-employment route.

Parents have a duty to complement teachers’ efforts to instil the entrepreneurial culture in their children. There are many websites on parenting. One such site is 'Let’s raise entrepreneurial kids' at www.mukmik.co.ke.



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