CULTURE OF EGALITARIANISM

Can the new education policy level playing field?

Over the years, we have placed a heavy premium on national examinations, so much that they have become a do or die event.

In Summary

• It has been extensively believed that a 100 per cent transition into secondary schools will create a level playing field.

• This delusion has pervaded our adulthood. And it is no wonder that there are proposals to change our Constitution by expanding the Executive to accommodate election losers

Education ministry officials distribute KCPE materials to invigilators in Mandera East subounty on Tuesday. Materials airlifted to insecure or inaccessible exam centres.
KCPE: Education ministry officials distribute KCPE materials to invigilators in Mandera East subounty on Tuesday. Materials airlifted to insecure or inaccessible exam centres.
Image: STEPHEN ASTARIKO

By the sweat of your brow, you shall eat your bread. This is what God told Adam to expect in life, as recorded in the Bible.

In today’s lingo, we would say, no sweat no gain.

It is that time of the year when the whole nation’s energy, including that of running government business, almost comes to a halt in lieu of administering the national examinations. Delivery of the exam papers, supplications for success, the visible security machinery, and the announcement of results become national headline news.

 
 

The race is on, the only difference being that this year, everyone will be a winner. This is after a change in our education policy that strives to ensure 100 per cent transition into secondary schools. Implementation of this policy is a demonstration of the government’s commitment to the Constitution, which states that every child has a right to free and compulsory basic education.

And this has been a welcome relief to many parents, teachers and students. Over the years, we have placed a heavy premium on national examinations, so much that they have become a do or die event. Resultantly, in a bid to ensure the candidates get a favourable outcome, Kenyans have resorted to ingenious tactics that have been as varied as the shapes of nothingness. These tactics include illicitly procuring the test papers beforehand and impersonation of the candidates by teachers, relatives and ‘candidates’ for hire.

It has been widely anticipated that with this new policy, our unhealthy obsession with passing national exams will be a foregone conclusion. It has also been extensively believed that a 100 per cent transition into secondary schools will create a level playing field, particularly for students in schools domiciled in marginalised areas, and with inadequate facilities.

In philosophy-speak, this is called egalitarianism. Egalitarianism envisages that everyone should get the same, be treated the same and enjoy equality of social status. This presupposes that equality of opportunities or equality of inputs will translate to equality of outcomes.

THEORY OF EGALITARIANISM

In the case of our revised education policy, the presupposition is that when all children are accorded an opportunity to partake in primary and secondary education, this will magically improve their outcomes in life.

So begs the question, does equality of educational opportunities guarantee equality of outcomes regardless of one’s efforts, abilities or aptitude? And if it does, what does that outcome look like?

 
 

One professor conducted a social experiment in his classroom to test the theory of egalitarianism. He administered a test and the results were that those students who worked hard and put in effort, scored an A.

He administered another test, but this time, he averaged the grades of all the students so that every student would receive the same grade thus ensuring no one would fail, and no one would get an A. When the grades were averaged, everyone got a B. The students who put in effort were upset and those who did not were very happy.

In the third test, the students who often put in effort studied less this time around and those who often did not studied even less . When the grades were averaged, the test average was a D. No one was happy. As the tests proceeded, the scores got lower and lower. The lesson he intended to teach his class is that when the reward is great, the effort to succeed is also great, but when that reward is taken away, no one will be motivated to put in more effort. Eventually, mediocrity becomes the norm.

Increasingly, we are witnessing a change in many of our school systems where competition is frowned upon. During sporting events, every child gets a participation rather than a rank trophy; and exams are marked but students are not graded. When everyone receives equal acknowledgment, the tokens of achievement recede in value. And this sends a dangerous life message that we are all winners.

This delusion has pervaded our adulthood. And it is no wonder that there are proposals to change our Constitution by expanding the Executive to accommodate election losers in the hope that this will placate them and their supporters through a sense of inclusivity. The pursuit of egalitarianism has robbed us of the sensibilities of being gracious losers.

COMPETITION IS NECESSARY 

The culture of egalitarianism leaves us seriously unprepared for life’s reality where scarcity is a fact of life. This means there will always be more needs than resources available, thus necessitating competition. And competition is not the dirty word that it has been made out to be. It is competition that has given the world better and more efficient means of communication, of crop production, of medication and of transportation.

Proponents of equality presuppose that resources are a pie that can be equally shared by everyone. And all that we need to do is bake a big enough pie to apportion equally and inclusively. However, to bake this pie will require different inputs and efforts from different people. If we will each expect an equal share of the pie, are we willing to provide equal inputs and efforts in making it?

I submit that similar to the professor’s class, rather than bake a big enough pie for each of us to receive an equal piece, those that would ordinarily work hard to provide more inputs and efforts incentivised by the reward it is likely to bring them, will get demotivated and eventually, the pie will become smaller and smaller.

Circling back to what God told Adam — by the sweat of your brow, you shall eat your bread — we can surmise that God is not egalitarian. So if we are created in His likeness, by adopting a culture of egalitarianism, are we trying to fit a square peg in a round hole?

Finally, my unsolicited advice to proponents of egalitarianism is; equality does not mean we are all well off. Like the professor’s students, we may be equally miserable.

The worst form of inequality is to try to make unequal things equal - Aristotle