Let’s get education reform right this time

We need a wholesome curriculum, with music, art, and physical education. For some kids, these are the things that make school worth the earache, you know

The national conference on education reform scheduled for January 30 comes in the wake of last year’s KSCE results which underlined the large numbers of children that Kenya annually loses like a batch of failed factory products.

There is no gentler way of saying this. We are destroying our children. Education is an investment, but business approaches, strategic plans and their assorted approaches are irrelevant in schools, no matter how many ‘customer-driven’ models like ISO certification are introduced.

Regrettably, too many educators and parents remain aloof to these realities, hoping that simpler but feeble fixes like scrapping 8-4-4 is all that is required.

Education reform anywhere in the world is a messy, noisy, and sometimes inefficient journey. What boggles the mind is how something this important is hardly covered by the media, compared to our noisy and divisive politics.

There can be nothing more important than all stakeholders sitting down and passionately discussing what we want education to do for our children and society. It is almost universally agreed that students need a rigorous curriculum. But rigor doesn’t mean covering more of the same old tired, traditional academic content without tying it to relevance.

The traditional exam-prep, lecture-style curriculum that is pervasive is so delinked from neither the modern day student experiences nor the challenging world for which he or she must be prepared. Strong relationships between students and adults who care and are knowledgeable about what students are learning is the critical but missing connection between the ‘what’ and the ‘how’ students learn in our system.

Subject content hardly changes.

For example, water will always be a compound of hydrogen and oxygen. But that does not mean we should teach the chemical composition of water in 2017 the way it was taught in 1963. Education must always consider the needs and interests of students and the skills they will require as adults, which is not the case here.

Over the years, our education system has morphed into a patchwork of options and corporate and academic reform ideas led by task forces. It appears that examinations are the main reason we educate, a premise that is as wasteful as it is tragic.

We have placed the future of our children in the hands of amateur edu-hobbyists and allowed uncertified, unqualified edu-tourists to manage our education system.

These are the persons who have doubled down on one, single, simplistic solution to the myriad challenges of our education: system overhaul.

But if we intend to inspire children to master an intellectually rigorous and relevant curriculum, we must retreat to the drawing board and “reinvent” our education. A good place to begin is to demand that every public school is held to the same resource allocation, standards, and must admit any child who qualifies and wishes to learn, without the segregationist rules used to artificially ‘manage’ student enrolment.

We need a wholesome curriculum, with music, art, and physical education. For some kids, these are the things that make school worth the earache, you know. Besides, there can never be successful science awakening devoid of philosophy and art.

Fortunately, there is actually a simple solution to all this. Instead of fumbling in the dark, let us listen to the experts; the committed professionals with the appropriate training and certifications.

Evelyne Jepkemei is an educational researcher and leadership expert

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The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Sde.co.ke