The tragic loss of eight precious lives in a substandard private school in Ngando this week is a wake up call for Kenyans to completely rethink education. The Ministry of Education, and basically the government, have no clue what they are doing. They are still operating on the logic of the colonial days, where the role of the state is protect investors and leave the Kenyan people to sort out how they will survive. This government’s incompetence has left children, especially the children of the poor, at the mercy of rogue private providers who care more for their profits and little for the safety and education of the children.
On August 15, 2019, the writers of The XYZ Show invited me to discuss with them the issues of Kenya's new education system. This is the text that I wrote for the occasion in answer to some of the questions the writers asked.
Q. Do you see any good in the new education system? What good?
A. I get asked this question a lot. It comes from the way Kenyans have been taught to think in binaries. For every national project, we are expected to talk about the strengths and weaknesses, or the advantages and disadvantages.
Thank you for inviting me for this forum where you discuss education, a topic that is close to my heart. I wanted to apologize for not being able to join you, until I remembered that I am not able to attend precisely because I am engaged in doing the work of the same education that you have gathered to discuss.
This conference is memorable for me, because this is the first time in my experience that I have heard of a public conference to discuss education. I would have preferred that the topics of the conference be more easily accessible by the public, topics such as “Why do we educate?” And “what kind of graduates do we want?” Nevertheless, I appreciate this forum and your invitation.
Unfortunately, the topic you have given me to discuss, that is, education systems that have worked elsewhere, is outside my purview. I came to the public discussion of CBC not as an education expert, but as a teacher who was "tayad" of seeing disempowerment in my students’ faces.
After two years of ignoring and avoiding our questions about Kenya's new education system, the bureaucrats behind the new system invaded glitzy media to defend their controversial education system. Their about turn, which looks like it followed advice from a PR consultant, seems to have been sparked by two things.
One, is the goof by freshly appointed Education CS George Magoha, speaking with threatening language to teachers opposing the new system, even with promises to crush the system's opponents. Wilfred Sossion, the secretary-general of the teachers' union KNUT, responded in a hard-hitting statement that included arguments about the colonialism and inequality entrenched by the competency based curriculum. Much as Kenyans seem to equate superman tactics of Matiang'i's stint in education with efficiency, even politicians seemed to agree that Magoha's language had gone too far.
The regime of Muigai wa Johnstone, popularly known as Uhuru Kenyatta, has withdrawn from performing the functions of government. It is now a bank. Rather than provide social services, it is extracting money from us citizens, and passing it on to private sector to provide education. The government's only role to collect and distribute taxes.
That is the essence of Sessional Paper no. 1 of 2019. In the unnecessarily lengthy policy document, the Ministry of Education proposes to hand over the work of education to private sector, and then become a bloated organ for supervising and regulating educational institutions. This institutional laziness explains why an education student was recently overheard saying that they have no intention to teach when they are through with their studies. The student intends to work in educational "policy," without ever doing the work of teaching.
It is really sad that freshly appointed CS education George Magoha today used threats and ultimatums to bulldoze the new education system. His rhetoric is essentially a contradiction of education. Asking critics, who exercizing their constiutional and human right to express their concerns, "who they hell they think they are," telling them to "shut up," and dismising their concerns as "nonsense," points to a failure of education and a resort to force, Such rhetoric is a contradiction to education. Education is about reason, thinking, discussion and evidence, and any new curriculum should embody that. Especially a curriculum whose implementers have promised a new system that encourages critical thinking and creativity.
If the Sessional Paper no 1. of 2019 was to be the policy document that would give a structural framework for education for the next few decades, then it has failed to deliver on that promise. Instead, the policy document is a spectacular withdrawal of the Government of Kenya from education and taking over regulation and banking, and leaving Kenya vulnerable to manipulation from forces that do not necessarily have the interests of Kenyans at heart.
It’s been eleven years since I first heard that the subjects I teach are useless to the market. The impact of that statement took me down an abusive relationship with the market for a few years, during which I tried very hard to please the market. We got guest lectures, a Creatives Academy workshop that trended on twitter and won a BAKE award, three visiting professors, and fairly good job placements for our students. We were visible on social media. But it was never enough. The market still said we didn’t matter.
I eventually decided that I better find out what arts and humanities departments outside Kenya are doing. I found out that they were fighting the same battles as us, and that they had named the monster they were fighting. It was called neoliberalism. Neoliberalism is the idea that the society works best if every social relationship is treated as an economic transaction. Teachers now don’t teach students; they serve clients.
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