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Love for schooling and not learning is holding us back

By Macharia Munene | July 20th 2020 at 12:00:00 GMT +0300

Coronavirus has negatively affected many sectors and distorted thinking so much that officials make policy mistakes, either knowingly or inadvertently, partly because their minds become so technical that they tend to miss the forest while looking at trees.

Among the sectors having policy formulation problems is education, which tried to come up with solutions to the coronavirus induced school crisis only to fall short of the optimal. The CS George Magoha-led team suggested that the country accepts what amounts to retardation of roughly 12 million children instead of opting to give advantage to the same children. Holding back is retardation, not progress. 

Part of the reason that the team suggested retardation is because its members were seemingly obsessed with mechanical schooling, meaning the time children spend in government-approved institutions, rather than learning and growth. Although schooling and education are closely related, they are not the same.

Mistaking one for the other can lead to cultural disaster for the concerned society. This tendency in Kenya explains the many “educational” commissions, from the colonial to post-colonial times, each stressing different aspects of schooling for Africans in the name of education. 

While every society, from time immemorial, strives to educate its young to preserve and perpetuate its perceived interests, not all agree on how to go about it. As a result, debate arises as to whether to “school” or to “educate” children. Schooling champions craft a controlling system to serve master or colonialist interests in the mold of Booker T Washington’s Tuskegee mentality of discouraging blacks from thinking because it might offend the master. One of the biggest American exports to European colonial states in Africa like Kenya was the Tuskegee mentality. The stress is on conformity and forced amnesia, not free-thinking. 

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Others consider education a tool of liberation from structural violence implicit in conditioning. They enjoy provoking thought and appear dangerous to the master class in various countries. They include Socrates the Athenian, Martinique/Algeria’s Franz Fanon, Brazilian Paulo Freire, Austrian priest Ivan Illich, and Kenyan Ali Mazrui. They all, at one time or another, touched raw nerves by questioning the accepted. Every society, so argued Socrates during his trial for the crime of empowering the Athenian youth to think, needs a gadfly. Fanon would agree and call for revolutions. Teaching, argued Freire, should liberate the oppressed by raising critical “consciousness”. Rebel priest Illich wanted “de-schooling” because schools turned children into mere consumers that obey authority instead of learning and engaging in critical thinking. Mazrui, right from boyhood, saw himself as a verbal combatant in intellectual battlefields. He upset the global “establishment” by suggesting African equality of access to nuclear capability. These and others went beyond schooling into the essence of education. 

There presently is need for Kenya to shift from pre-occupation with schooling and embrace learning, thinking, and creativity. Magoha’s decree that pupils lose a whole year is “school” thinking; it is hardly “education” thinking. It reinforces “losing” rather than “advancing” mentalities, which is a terrible psycho-burden to impose on roughly one quarter of the Kenyan population. Ideally, the ministry should be giving hope, not stagnation and despair.

Gain rather than lose

There still is time for damage control. With appropriate precautions, the Form Fours and the Standard Eights, for instance, can take their national examinations, based on what they should have been taught up to the point of the general coronavirus closures. Instead of holding back almost 12 million young Kenyans, Magoha’s team should have been creative and let the pupils “gain” rather than “lose”. Arguments about lack of classes and teacher availability has limited validity in the sense that Kenya will not have built required classes or hired the needed teachers before January 2021.   

Educational creativeness is not new given that post-colonial Kenya has had some of those creative moments. When post-colonial Kenya abolished the Kenya African Primary Examination, KAPE, to create uniform non-racial national examination called Certificate of Primary Education, CPE, it did it in stages of 1964 for Nairobi and 1965 for the rest of the country. Standard Sevens and Standard Eights did the exams at the same time and many went to various high schools, especially the freshly minted ‘Harambee’ secondary schools. 

With Kenya reeling under problems, besides Covid, it does not need to demotivate the youth by holding it back. It should inspire, motivate, and provoke the youth into activity to meet the challenge. Since Magoha’s decree is not cast in cement, his team should endeavour to grasp the difference between “school” and “education” mentalities, stop thinking “school” with its time stagnation drawback, and thus avoid retarding generations of Kenyans. The team should adopt the “creative” aptitude of promoting wholesome “education”. It is not easy, but it would do Jogoo House some good.

-Prof Munene teaches at USIU

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