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"Taking Injustice Personally"

Kenya’s school system makes slaves of children, let’s reform it without delay.

By Justus Nyang’aya

Let me start with a disclaimer. I do not know the exact cause of the sudden outbreak of arson in schools. It will be interesting to know what is driving students across the country to set ablaze their own classrooms and dormitories. Equally interesting is why the National Intelligence Service, despite the immense resources at its disposal, wasn’t able to neutralize the unprecedented acts of lawlessness in a timely fashion.

As a matter of public interest, the Ministry of Education should speedily and comprehensively investigate the bizarre happenings to establish their actual cause/causes. This could aid in arresting the situation before it results in greater damage than what is already witnessed.

What we know for a fact is that the Cabinet Secretary for Education, Dr. Fred Matiangi, took a number of bold steps designed to restore integrity in the administration of national examinations. The action was timely following reports of rampant cheating in national exams and runaway corruption at the Kenya National Examinations Council (KNEC). Dr. Matiangi’s immediate directives affected term dates, examination timetable, school visits and prayer sessions involving outsiders. These were designed to reduce contact with outsiders during the crucial third term.

In keeping with the Matiangi-led reforms, there is a need to reflect on our priorities and our values as a nation. That dozens of schools are going up in flames even after the CS personally appealed for restraint is indicative of gross absence of discipline, disrespect for people in authority, failure to inculcate positive values such as patriotism and inability by the school authorities to pursue dialogue as a way of resolving conflicts.

There is evidence that schools that promote open dialogue through forums such weekly baraza or human rights clubs have fewer cases of unrest than their counterparts which do not. We should not underrate students’ need to express themselves in an environment free of fear and victimization. Like everyone else, students have rights which should be recognized and respected.

While we expect students to be disciplined and respectful, I have serious concerns with a learning system that makes slaves out of children. The current system, geared primarily at passing exams, has turned both teachers and students into robots with the teachers trying to predict what will come in the exams while the learners struggle to cram content which they later reproduce in exams. The pressure is sometimes so high that students, teachers and parents have no qualms conspiring to cheat in exams even if it means paying large sums of money for it. Powerful cartels have emerged to cash in on this craze. We have to stop this. The aim of education is to mold responsible and patriotic citizens, problem solvers, innovative entrepreneurs and people who see opportunity where others see none.

It is becoming clear that some children are getting tired of a system that keeps them in class for too long leaving them too little time to play and discover themselves. They are stressed out but the system does not allow them space to vent. All we want from them is the much coveted “A” grade and admission into high profile courses in top notch universities. Even holidays, half terms and weekends have been taken away from the kids and converted into time for homework, tutorials and revision.

There’s a government appointed committee currently developing proposals to reform the education system. I pray they come up with a practical system that works for our children and I hope the government commits resources to ensure it is implemented.

Society sending bad example to kids

In an age when news and information spreads faster than the proverbial bushfire, we got to be careful that we don’t send a message to our children that violence, corruption and impunity are rewarded while honesty, hard work and respect is frowned upon.

During the past few months alone, we have witnessed serious cases of violence against unarmed citizens, corruption in key institutions and impunity that says “utado?”

Children ought to grow up knowing that hard work, innovative mind and respect for others as well as enterprise are rewarded while corruption, cutting corners, violence and insolence are punished irrespective of one’s stations in life. These are value which must be instilled by parents, teachers and churches and reinforced by all who the children look up to. They need to be made aware that they will be held individually responsible for criminal acts and their dreams could be shattered by punitive fines and lengthy jail terms.

Talking about the role of parents, we got to ask whether at some point we got too busy at work, ‘chamas’ and ‘nyama choma’ dens that we surrendered our parental duties to television and other third parties. The typical urban parent leaves home early and returns late. Weekends are spent in church and ‘chama’ meetings as well as in the club with friends.

I cannot emphasize enough the power of parental presence in developing self-belief and discipline. Parental love and affirmation imbues self-worth, a sense of security, pride, respect as well as dignity for themselves and others. Even trees require well prepared soils, sunlight, air and manure to yield healthy fruit. How more so, our children?

I call on the government to take the ongoing reforms seriously and to develop policies that make learning enjoyable and valuable. Head Teachers, you got a tough job of balancing between discipline, dialogue and rights. It is a delicate balance but it has to be maintained at all times. Parents, the burden of molding kids starts with you. Let us not surrender this God-given responsibility to others. Finally to our young people, I wish to remind you that there is value in restraint and thinking before the act. Yes, you have rights. But there are no rights without responsibility.

Mr. Nyang’aya is the Amnesty International Kenya Country Director Justus.nyangaya@amnesty.or.ke

 

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