This insanity must end.
This is a call to Kenyans of conscience to step back and reflect on the lies about education that are circulating in the media, schooling system and government. Foreign sharks have camped in Kenya to distort our education. Using buzz words such as “quality” and “global standards,” these sharks seek to destroy the hopes, dreams and creativity of young Africans, not just in Kenya, but in the whole region, and to make a profit while at it. With the help of local professors, bureaucrats and journalists, they spread hatred for education among the population. At the same time, they ironically create a thirst for schooling that makes parents and children resort to desperate measures to get a school, up to accepting violence and abuse in schools and taking their own lives.
This insanity must end.
On July 9 this year, Kenyan filmmaker Silas Miami posted a tweet asking Kenyans to share their most unbelievable experience in boarding school. Expecting replies about quirks and naughty incidents, Miami was in for a surprise. The stories which emerged from the replies were simply horrifying. They were stories of abuse and extreme violence, including broken limbs and rape, meted out on children.
A few years ago, I attended a public lecture by Micere Mugo at the University of Nairobi. The event was electrifying, and there were three memories that have stayed with me.
First was to hear Prof Mugo’s journey of being an African woman in an anti-African world. Recounting her journey was not a story about her, but a story about all of us. From the toxic space that was (and still is) Kenya, to Zimbabwe where she initially landed and finally the United States, Prof Mugo was profoundly African and connected with brothers and sisters wherever she landed. She would later say at a lecture at Riara University, words which I tweeted and may therefore not be verbatim: “If you have chosen the path of struggle, you must have the courage to build a new home wherever your path leads. Don't romanticize home; you must have the courage to make new homes and new roots.”
A few years ago, I noticed an interesting phenomenon in the profile of applicants for language faculty positions. A number of degree holders had studied, especially in the UK, language teaching, rather than linguistics or education. This meant that the interviews revealed gaps in the candidates’ theoretical and technical grasp of either field.
An additional phenomenon, which was more worrying, was that when we asked some about their PhD aspirations, some of the applicants were not interested in pursuing their discipline. Some wanted to go into development and related fields, others into the more attractive degrees like communication. More disturbing among the literature aspirants was that some were not familiar with the latest fiction and other artistic output by Kenyans.
In 2018, at the height of my public engagement on the competency-based curriculum, the concept of homeschooling gained prominence media discussions on education. In a few interviews, journalists asked me if homeschooling was an alternative to CBC and public schooling. I answered from my experience of having taught homeschooled students in my university classrooms in both the US and Kenya, saying that some of the students whom I consider outstanding were homeschooled.
In hindsight, I now see that I was naïve, and that I fell into a trap that I did not know I had fallen into until this week. I understood the trap after I criticized a media report on homeschooling and received an unexpected and persistent backlash from homeschooling parents.
I grew up knowing that in Kenya, it was a crime to ask questions. I was bullied in primary school for my “big mouth.” In high school I was blasted for being like my father. At church I was reprimanded repeatedly for literal blasphemy, and I still am, any time I cried out “my God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
But even as I endured this humiliation, I always knew that the one place to ask questions in Kenya was the university. Yes, I knew that Micere Mugo, ES Atieno Odhiambo, Willy Mutunga, Ngugi wa Thiong’o and many others had suffered for exercising intellectual freedom. I knew that university students had been jailed and killed for demanding democracy and authentic education. I knew that police hated students and would beat us at any chance.
With the colonial ideology of order, and without a tribal elite to implement it, like the elite handed over to Kenyatta by the colonial government, Moi maintained the colonial and exploitative state by crushing alternative spaces of imagination in the same way his predecessors had done, but with more cruelty. As the saying goes, every time history repeats itself, the price goes up.
I have always had a tortured relationship with Daniel arap Moi, the second president of Kenya. I was in primary school when I first became conscious of him, because of the school milk that we drank. As I became a teenager, I was aware of the world my parents lived in, trying to forge a better Kenya, and Moi using the leadership of the Presbyterian Church of East Africa (PCEA), to persecute them.
But there was still a sense in which I was distanced from the cause of my parents’ struggles. When I was in form 2 or form 3 (I can’t remember), Moi visited our school and I asked him for an autograph, and he was gracious and wrote that he wished me a bright future. The next Monday, our headmistress blasted the entire school about lack of respect for an elderly statesman. But who cared? Not me.
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