In its nineteen years of publishing WAJIBU has twice treated education as a main subject.1 There are good reasons why, once again, we devote an issue to this topic. Education is a matter of continuous concern to parents in Kenya. There are few endeavours for which they are willing to sacrifice as much as for the schooling of their children. Education ranks high also in the priorities of the Kenya Government: there is no other sector that takes as large a share of the country’s budget as education.
Given the importance of this sector, no other decision of the NARC government, on coming to power in 2003, was as popular as its introduction of free primary education. However, one and half years later, questions are beginning to be asked about this admittedly bold step: had it been preceded by any research on possible and unforeseen adverse consequences? The article on this subject by Professor Sifuna in this issue raises many disturbing questions.
Questions need also to be asked on the matter of certain educational practices that have taken root in our country. For example, sending young children to boarding schools may indeed be advantageous as far as their acquisition of knowledge is concerned but what about the emotional consequences? Depriving young children of the much-needed support of parents and close relatives in their formative years can be devastating, especially in cases where parents find easy excuses not even to come and visit the children regularly.
Then there is the matter of the many elite private schools where parents are willing to pay as much as half a million shillings per year for the education of one child! And this in a country where there are still many children whose parents cannot send their children to school for lack of money for uniforms! [?} In spite of the enormous sums being expended on the education of the elite, these schools often do not produce the same results as some of our national or provincial educational institutions[?].The Asssistant Minister for Education, Science and Technology, the Honourable Kilemi Mwiria, in a newspaper article earlier this year2 gave some startling facts about the supposedly spectacular KCPE results of some of the private ‘academies,’ as they increasingly prefer to be called. He cited the evidence that many of the students from these academies who perform extraordinarily well in KCPE often have difficulty in, or even drop out of secondary schools when they are pitted against students from upcountry public schools.
This brings us to the question of the overemphasis on competition in our educational system. In the interview with the former headmistress of Precious Blood Girls Secondary School that you will read in this issue, you will note the strong emphasis in this school on cooperation, as opposed to competition. This emphasis on cooperation, coupled with a stress on the development of individual capabilities, makes for a remarkable difference, not only in academic excellence but, more importantly, in the building of character..
It is the building of character and the teaching of moral values which needs to receive a much greater emphasis in our schools if we are to adequately prepare the youth of today for life in a country and in a world that increasingly and constantly bombards them with messages that promote individualism and materialism, the exact opposites of cooperation. We should educate not only the mind but the heart also, as one of the contributors in this issue stresses.
Here, of course, we are up against a paradox: how do we expect our teachers to teach the values of cooperation and caring when these values are increasingly absent in our society? Without role models exemplifying these values, how will students assimilate them?
This is where the truly excellent schools in Kenya prove their worth, namely by the fact that their heads and other teachers are indeed such role models for the students. Children need such guides and mentors as much as they need good teachers in the various subjects. And society is fortunate to have a number of teachers who act as substitutes when parents fail in their roles or when, as is increasingly the case in our country, the parents are no longer there.
Our public educational system is definitely in need of reform. An all of us, whether we are parents or not, and whether we can afford quality private education for our own children or not, should take part in the debate about the how of this reform. The future of our nation is at stake.
G. Wakuraya Wanjohi
1. Volume 5, no. 2 (1990) and Volume 13, no. 2 (1998)
2. “Bridging education gap: why KCPE results from academies are deceptive.” Sunday Nation, January 18, 2004.