Education on the path to ruin


Kenya’s education system is on an inevitable path to calamitous ruin. Between 50-65 per cent of teachers in private and public schools do not have the basic reading and math skills required to teach standard four pupils. Teachers are absent half of the time they are required to teach. The public universities are short of professors, woefully underfunded and staggered by the winds of mediocrity.

Successive reports by Uwezo, an education advocacy organisation, have shown that our children are not learning. One in five children in standard seven do not have standard two competence levels in reading and numeracy.

Our universities lack an overarching purpose for undergraduate education and there is no vision of the attributes of a university graduate. Students have no capacity for critical thinking, analytical and moral reasoning; they lack writing, speaking and quantitative skills.

About 51 per cent of students graduating from our universities lack the basic and technical skills needed in the job market. Last year the Judges and Magistrates Vetting Board fired nine magistrates who lacked mastery of basic skills in English and could not write judgments supported by sound legal analysis and reasoning.

We have turned primary and secondary schools into grade factories. We have put a price on grades and national examinations are no longer reliable measures of students’ ability. A recent survey on ethics and integrity among high school students revealed that the majority of them would do anything, including cheating, to pass their KCSE exam.

In our universities, grades can be negotiated and paid for in kind or in cash. Students enrolled in part-time postgraduate programmes have Help on Tap to deal with the messy inconvenience of term papers, research, data analysis and dissertation writing. Prominent politicians are enrolled in undergraduate, master’s and PhD programmes and graduate in record time, even without attending class.

Lecturers are indifferent to whether students learn anything. Unspeakable levels of tribalism undermine merit and integrity in hiring of faculty hence, there is a rising tide of mediocrity in our universities. The intellectual, ethical and moral collapse of our universities is nearly complete.

The most durable and dependable capital we have is not oil or gas or wildlife. Moreover, our capacity to compete in a knowledge-based globalised economy does not depend solely on the density of paved roads or length of railway or coverage of electric power grid. The education, training and skills we offer our children – the quality of human capital – will determine our place in the league of nations.

The silly season is here as the country inches towards the general election to be held next year. The deplorable state of our education will not be a hot-button issue. The elections will be fought on the calculus of ethnic alliances and promissory pork for ethnic head chefs.

Our education, the fountain of our legacy to our children, is on a path to calamitous ruin, and we can only ignore it at our own and collective peril. Do we have the courage to act?

Dr Awiti is the director of the East African Institute at Aga Khan University