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By NJERI KINYANJUI
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We have crises at all levels of education in Kenya.

In primary and secondary schools, a new curriculum is being introduced regardless of the view of the teachers, who are key stakeholders, while public universities are on the verge of bankruptcy amid accusations of lack of quality in their programmes.

I need not emphasise the need of education in a society. Education provides skills, imparts values and helps individuals to work towards actualisation of their dreams.

It has propelled societies to greater heights through research and innovation. Most of the digital-led revolution has taken place in universities.

New seeds, crops, tools and equipment have been developed there. Societies have perpetuated themselves through education. Without an education, there would not be a society.

Education is not something we should play games with. That is why the transition to a competency-based curriculum needs to be negotiated and consensus arrived at with stakeholders and methodologies of the change given time to evolve.

How does one-week training change a teachers’ classroom behaviour? How do you convert a teacher used to lecturing to problem-solving methods overnight? How do you make teacher-centred learning student-centred?

Again, for a learner’s competency to be identified and developed, their school entering behaviour must be understood. Those with access to out-of-school resources will have their competency easily identified.

While initiating my parental involvement programme at Igamba Primary School in Kiambu County, a visiting American friend asked the pupils to draw pictures of their dream careers.

They drew drivers of tea collecting trucks, matatu drivers, tea pickers and even policemen shooting people.

The pupils were honest; these pictures reflected their environment. I imagine a teacher in Igamba trying to discover the competencies of pupils who are used to seeing tea picking, milking of cows, cutting trees, using wood fire stoves and so on.

When I asked the parents how they help their students to choose their careers, one told me that if he sees a child interested in playing with wheels, he will encourage them to be a mechanic.

Another said they encourage them to learn from the teacher since they know what is best for students.

We need to know things such as the way parents socialise their children, the things the pupils have grown up seeing and exposure to other media.

As a single parent, my daughter had a problem when the concept of family was introduced in class: that the family has a male father, female mother, brothers who are male and sisters who are female like her.

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Of course, I can be blamed for not having introduced her to the father, but I come from the school of thought that believes that you cannot force someone to accept responsibility.

A teacher also intimated that, when in a test a pupil was asked who cooks in the home, she replied, “Aunt”. She had expected “mother”.

I have argued elsewhere that the issue with our education is not quality, but that we offer quality imported curricula.

Some of the students I’ve taught over my 30-year career have excelled in institutions abroad, where they have gone for master’s and PhDs.

We have an education system that makes us hate who we are, is geared to further the global system of extraction and exploitation and is divorced from our everyday lived experience.

While babysitting my granddaughter in the United States, I watched the baby YouTube video.

They cover all aspects of the environment she will encounter in the American environment: the sun, the animals, the bus, the pool….

That is not the case with our kindergarten books: we demonise our cultures and methods of doing things as backward and primitive.

I was ashamed to see an article where a vice-chancellor was inviting multinationals to set up innovations in his science parks.

Since the university is located in Nyeri, why couldn’t he propose the development of tools that would make farming easier in the region?

Why do women have to dig using hoes and weed with pangas, while bending? Why not come up with tools that simplify coffee picking or millet harvesting?

Given a chance to run these universities, I would come up with courses like engineering for everyday problems.

I would develop customer care courses for matatu drivers and conductors and come up with buildings and towns that respond to the everyday needs of traders, artisans and peasants, the majority in our cities and rural areas.

This would go a long way in addressing planning and garbage management in cities. My graduates would never miss jobs because they would be solving everyday local problems.

Dr Kinyanjui is a senior research fellow at the Institute for Development Studies, the University of Nairobi. [email protected]

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