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Help those who fail their exams not to fall into drugs

By Simon Mwangi | April 29th 2021
Academic failure and drug use and abuse are problematic aspects of the adolescent stage. [Courtesy]

There is justifiable excitement in the country every time the Government announces dates for releasing national examinations results. This is usually the case on the days preceding official release of the Kenya Certificate of Primary School Education (KCPE) and the Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education (KCSE) results.

It hits the roof once the grades have been announced and all mainstream and social media is awash with congratulatory messages for the top performers. However, those who do not perform well are left to nurse their injuries, away from the media’s prying eyes.

Ordinarily, those who do not perform well in national examinations have this belief that it is over for them, thus end up being vulnerable on many fronts. The truth of the matter is that they may be excellent in other fields which are not necessarily education oriented. However, the razzmatazz and hubbub arising out of the celebration of top performers pushes this group of learners into a dangerous mental state.

This is especially worse if they had expected to perform better than they actually did, which could push them into drug abuse to numb the pain and seek acceptance.

Branded failures

The biggest purveyors of the false narrative that people’s destiny is defined through one-off assessments and grades in the name of national examinations are none other than adults. These are ironically the same people who are supposed to be providing hope, offering guidance and supporting the teens who did not perform well and re-assuring them of a brighter future despite their academic performance.

Academic failure and drug use and abuse are problematic aspects of the adolescent stage, and the connection between these two behaviours can disrupt the basic functioning of individuals and societies.

In the Kenyan context, those who do not perform very well in secondary school, for instance, end up in tertiary institutions where they pursue what is wrongly perceived as less lucrative courses.

In this process they enrol for either certificate or diploma courses while their peers get slots in leading public and private universities where they pursue degrees which are, once again, erroneously viewed as being superior and sound gateways to high-flying careers and prosperity.

It is at this stage that such learners begin to explore drug use which graduates to full-blown abuse and eventually addiction. The feeling of not being worthy or good enough fuels the urge to engage in drug and alcohol abuse to fight off the thoughts.

Destructive habits

Several surveys conducted among primary school-going children both in the country and elsewhere have revealed that learners are introduced to drugs from the early age of 12. These are young minds that can be mentored and easily weaned off such destructive habits especially when caught early.

So what is the way out of this situation? The responsibility lies squarely with educators, society and all stakeholders since social status is what has placed premiums on academic excellence. Providing opportunities to ensure that such learners feel a sense of belonging and their realisation that they can contribute in more meaningful ways to society is key in preventing them from slipping to drug use and abuse.

Learners at all levels need to feel that they are useful, thus for those who do not perform well this can be amplified through placing responsibilities on them. In social circles, the ones showing talent in music can be given the duty to lead such sessions during family meetings, religious events and during such other activities.

The artistic ones can be inducted into mentorship programmes where they can be encouraged to nurture and grow their talents. Such tasks end up making them feel useful to society and thus keep them away from deadly distractions such as engaging in drugs.

Many of those who failed in exams never forget well-intentioned adults who tried to help them get their footing. While our education system has been configured to award achievement, we should strive to also inculcate the culture of rewarding struggle and hard work even when it does not materialise in exam success.

Parents thus have a big responsibility of creating an environment where they foster the growth mindset in the children who do not perform well in exams, showing them that success is a sum total of various components, failure included.  


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