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Time to look at bigger picture in education

Time to look at bigger picture in education

Most schools are over crowded due to the free education policy. FILE PHOTO | NMG

The 2018 Human Development Index (HDI) by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) ranked Kenya at position 142 out of 188 countries that were surveyed. In other words, we have some work to do in education, one of the key dimensions of HDI, which is measured by the expected years of schooling for school-age children and average years of schooling in the adult population.Our recent behaviour towards the outcome of the 2018 Kenya Certificate for Secondary Education (KCSE) examination contradicts what we need to do to catch up with Nordic countries (Iceland and Norway), which took two of the top three positions in the world.Since the release of the results, we have spent the entire media space celebrating the achievements of 90,377 students that will join university out of 631,750 candidates. In retrospect, we have completely failed to see the big picture and fallen into a narrow view of education.Perhaps most people do not understand the impact of the outcome. Those who did will relate to what I am about to say.On the evening of December 21, I received a call from my village. It was from Zachary, my old classmate in primary school. He did not waste time as he normally does.‘‘Hallo, Hallo, this is Zachary, our son Anthony got a D plus.’’ Silence. ‘‘What do we do?’, he asked. ‘‘I don’t know’’, I responded. D+ is outside the entry requirements for many tertiary institutions.Anthony is a young man I helped educate in a local public day school. He is a good kid and his father and myself had hoped that he would do well.

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My discussion with him revealed many things that I wasn’t aware of. Teachers absconded their duties and no one reported this because most of them come from the area. They did not have a maths teacher for the better part of Form 3 and the laboratories were ill equipped. At home, Anthony often woke up at 5am to help his parents with various chores, including picking tea, before leaving for school.He went to bed early because his home lacks electricity and the makeshift lamp he uses sometimes lacks paraffin. He never had a chance to go through some electronic content that I used to send to him because his father’s smart phone was off most of the time, needing to be charged at a nearby shopping centre where there is electricity.All odds were against not just Anthony but virtually all of his colleagues from rural schools.The poor performance by students from mostly rural schools was not entirely their fault.Most schools are over crowded due to the free education policy. They lack the necessary infrastructure and are under-equipped. You would be expecting too much from these kids if you thought they would be stellar performers.The circumstances under which rural students, save for a few outliers, study is not comparable to urban schools that contributed more than 90 percent of the top grades. In my view, examinations in Kenya reveal the widening social inequality rift in education and careers that no one wants to address.The Norwegian educational system de-emphasises national examinations. This is a system that is entirely public and is based on the principle that everyone should be able to get an education regardless of social background.As such the transition from high school to university/tertiary is more than 98 percent.The tertiary system is referred to as specialised university where they teach applied sciences similar to Germany’s Applied Science Universities. If Kenya wants to improve its HDI and retain the national examinations, then the marking system has to be moderated in such a way that children from disadvantaged schools can be given a fighting chance.If Kenya wanted a 75 percent transition into university/tertiary, using a moderated method such as curving, kids like Anthony will have a chance. The types of Anthony do well in employment when compared to those who spent their early part of life cramming for exams. We also see reversal in performance at university level with most first-class degrees going to students from disadvantaged high schools.

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