The idea that the full potential of academic giants – or of any child, really – can only be achieved within the walls of the so-called dream schools is charming but misguided.
Two contrasting yet equally damning headlines in two local dailies last week on Tuesday showed the troubling trend of placing a high premium on children being admitted to the crème de la crème schools.
One of the headlines read: “Old giants scoop top KCPE stars” while the other read “Pain as top students miss dream schools”.
The Daily Nation reported that Education Cabinet Secretary George Magoha revealed the ministry had placed 30,000 candidates in schools they had not chosen.
He attributed this to lack of schools in counties where children sat their examinations, and a majority of the candidates giving the 85 newly-upgraded institutions a wide berth in favour of the hallowed 18, consisting of schools like Alliance High School, Pangani Girls, Mangu High School and the Kenya High School.
“I wish to ask parents, guardians and teachers to work closely with candidates during the process of selecting schools to ensure they make the right choices,” said Prof Magoha.
But most parents, guardians and teachers are products of a broken system that most likely stripped them of their dignity and imagination, so how can they be trusted to let the children know that missing a slot in the Big 18 doesn’t mean they are doomed?
Some parents and guardians took to social media to express their disappointment with the schools their bright children had been called to.
“How can my son who scored over 400 marks be called to this dingy, unremarkable school where they probably eat githeri five times a week and bread once a year?” is a mild exaggeration of one of the questions that kept cropping up.
To be fair, every parent believes their child is entitled to the best in life.
It’s also human that a parent whose child survived the anxiety-inducing Kenya Certificate of Primary Education (KCPE) would expect the reward to be a good school.
Parents can gallivant all the way to the special desk the ministry promised to set up to “listen to parents and address challenges that may arise from the selection process”, yet the truth of the matter is that there was always going to be a disappointed child, parent, guardian or teacher.
It would be more productive to relieve the pressure on the candidates to be admitted in the “Big 18” by letting them know academic excellence exists within them and not behind wrought iron gates and imposing colonial-style buildings.
And that apart from the githeri and boiled cabbage that they will eat daily while their counterparts enjoy sausages and bacon, the curriculum is the same.
Lending moral support to the children who are victims of the exceedingly high expectations thrust upon them by their schools and teachers is certainly a better use of the parents’ energies than visiting the Ministry of Education’s office or taking to social media to cry foul.
And what makes a school perfect, anyway? Is it the bragging rights that come with it? The excellent structures? The splendid menus?
The school buses? Or is it the nurturing environment, the teachers and the equipment? Because as long as the basics of education are covered, parents should release their disappointment to the winds as it will give their children permission to do so as well.
The truth is that even the so-called ‘low-grade’ schools are that way because the parents failed to vote in leaders whose job it is to make sure they are schools worth going to.
The power to change these schools also rests in parents taking more active roles in parent-teacher associations and alumni organisations by volunteering their time and money.
It makes no sense for parents to join their children in mourning if they saw the schools dying and did nothing about it.
Our wizards saw the Brave New World, but none saw coronavirus
Last year in December, Nation Media Group held its first Kusi Ideas Festival in Kigali. The festival tried to peer ahead the next 60 years in Africa.
There were many Brave New World ideas about how that future might look like, and also the perils that progress almost always brings. Needless to say, no one saw Covid-19 coming.
A futurist curtain-raiser in The EastAfrican, titled Africa in 2079, came close to outlining a mirror universe to the one Covid-19 is bequeathing us.
Between London, Zimbabwe, and the corners of Africa where Econet’s fibre optic network reaches, Strive Masiyiwa, founder and chairman of Econet Wireless and former chair of the board of AGRA wrote:
“I recently invested in a tech start-up that has created an Uber-like platform for tractors, enabling farmers to link up with a central database and order a tractor via SMS…freeing the farmer from the drudgery of the hoe. This service is particularly valued by women farmers, enabling them to circumvent social norms that might otherwise hamper their ability to hire a tractor.” From wherever we are hiding from the virus, unable to roam the farm, Uber farming could be the new way a lot of our food is produced.
From Tanzania, Aidan Eyakuze, who is executive director of Twaweza East Africa and has been confined in-country as an elegant prisoner for nearly two years because of his love of inconvenient data, painted an intoxicating but strange utopian-dystopian picture of Africa at the end the century.
By 2079, he foresaw the “vast majority of Africans earn their living through multiple micro-tasking (MMTs) ever since every ”job” was unbundled into its component tasks…leaving only those unbundled micro-tasks needing social intelligence, creativity or dexterity to be done by people. All ”taskers” are always-on private contractors who bid relentlessly for the privilege of tasking.
Incomes are kept low by the relative scarcity of tasks requiring the human touch.
“The unrelenting competition for tasks is both stressful and socially divisive — you are competing against everyone all the time…even marriages have renewable term limits, ‘in case someone better comes along.’” With work-from-home regimes, the former has come 78 years earlier.
Indeed, even for the latter, more people now probably think being cooped up with the same man or woman in the house “for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death us do part,” is a very archaic model.
Between Italy and Kenya, the Society for International Development’s Arthur Muliro, peered into a what a truly borderless Africa might look. Among others, his gaze settled on, of all places, Libya.
“Libya…was now welcoming other Africans and allowing them to settle. The peace deal that had come after a decade of civil war was holding and there was new optimism, in part boosted by the arrival and expansion of new migrant groups who had settled there and were helping rebuild their adopted country.”
On a close re-reading, turns out Aidan hinted that Turkey, which jumped in the Libyan fray as the coronavirus made its way out of Wuhan, might have something to do with it.
Stadiums progress welcome – Daily Nation
Last week, the Sports ministry’s top officials, led by Chief Administrative Secretary Hassan Noor Hassan and Principal Secretary Joe Okudo traversed the country to access the ongoing construction of stadiums.
President Uhuru Kenyatta also made an impromptu tour of the Nyayo National Stadium to ensure that all is well besides giving Cabinet Secretary Amina Mohamed full support. That has made sure that renovation works resume at all the stadiums — including Kasarani, Nyayo, Kipchoge Keino, Kamariny and Wote — and that everything is running on schedule.
Upon completion of some of these arenas, the country will have positioned itself to host major world events, especially in football, athletics and basketball. The ministry must, therefore, ensure that, while it has given contractors an ultimatum to finish their work, it also insists on quality delivery.
But there are concerns about work at county stadiums, especially in Mombasa, where those who redesigned the arena have done away with the internationally approved running track.
The new stadium has been designed for football only hence won’t host any track and field events. The four lane track will only be for warm up and this has raised eyebrows.
Mombasa County Chief Sports Officer Innocent Mugabe said Bububu grounds in Likoni and Kenya Ports Authority’s Mbaraki Sports Club will be upgraded for sports use. Mombasa being at low altitude, it is suitable for staging major World Athletics events, having staged the 2007 World Cross Country Championships.
Kenya is bidding to host the 2025 World Championships in Athletics and Mombasa can easily be the venue with a good stadium in place. There is still time to build a county stadium.
Ensure reopening of schools runs smoothly
When Education Cabinet Secretary George Magoha announced a fortnight ago the postponement of school reopening to January next year, he gave an exception. Universities, teacher training colleges and technical training institutions were directed to be ready to reopen in September.
Consequently, they were asked to put in place safety measures prescribed by the Health ministry, including reorganising classrooms and hostels to ensure social distancing. Just a month to the planned reopening, are those institutions really prepared?
In the past few days, Prof Magoha has convened meetings with the heads of the institutions to plan for the reopening and visiting the colleges to assess their preparedness. Preliminary reports from these engagements indicate that just a few institutions are ready.
At the university level, so far, only Strathmore has been declared ready for reopening. Ensure reopening of schools runs smoothly
For teachers’ colleges, three — Murang’a, Kibabii and Kericho — have met the threshold. Assessment is ongoing for the technical training institutions.
But the broad observation is that most of the institutions are not ready. Though not surprising, most of them are ordinarily in poor state and Covid-19 has just exposed them. Beyond the situation, long-term actions are required to revamp and revitalise them.
Reopening the colleges in September will be the starting point for relaxing restrictions in the education sector. The reason for beginning with colleges is that they have mature students who understand the health protocols and can, therefore, take care of themselves and minimise infections. Their experience would then inform plans for reopening primary and secondary schools.
Closure of schools and colleges has dealt a huge blow to education. Learners in schools have lost a whole year and have to repeat classes next year. This comes with high social, economic and psychological. Indeed, this is the first time in history that schools are being closed for a year.
The last time the education sector suffered most was in 1982, when, following an abortive coup, the University of Nairobi and then-Kenyatta University College were closed for nine months. That created a major backlog and that took five years to clear. This is the reason steps should be taken at the earliest opportunity to mitigate the damage.
The challenge, therefore, is for the colleges to work on those health protocols to prepare for reopening. All other sectors, such as transport and tourism, are reopening and, therefore, colleges have no reason to lag behind. We ask the management of the institutions to expedite the required processes and get ready for reopening in September as directed.