What if we were all wrong all along?

“Although it was an informative talk Mheshimiwa you scared us.” A desperate voice of a friend in one of my many WhatsApp groups remarked. This contradiction, pierced as I lay in bed that Sunday night in one of those quiet dusk to dawn curfew times.

This friend was referring to what I considered one of the most intensive media interviews I had made an appearance on. I rarely decline media invitations to speak on educational issues, especially when happenings in education sprout into what I christen, “market days” when my phone turns into a switchboard with a flurry of calls from all the leading media houses. Since I associate myself with the civil society movement, I deliberately give an opinion laced with hope and possibilities. However, this is hard when you work for and in “a modern” civil society space where the activism fire burns conveniently. You see guys, these days, a business card qualifies grants you the tag of the civil society. Some had argued that the gene of activism disappeared ages back when conformity framed as partnership became the catchword. Fellow activists retreated into disjointed full-time employees, waiting to be invited to the table. A symbiotic relationship out of the survival truce was necessary when the movement was branded ‘evil society.’ The education watchdog faded slowly into obsolescence. One of the remaining spaces is channeling energy on talk shows to react to the official position, and I was doing that too that evening. The media was abuzz following the dual announcement that the national exams would go unabated while the re-opening for the second term had been postponed for an additional thirty days. Thirty good days. My friend’s assertion got me thinking.

Even when our gut distrusts the familiar narrative, as a nation, we are synonymous with the legendary lizard that jumped from the iroko tree. No wonder we merry make the results of the examinations council. Once equaled to an early Christmas gift, the nation has enjoyed the pleasant surprise examination results being released in a record time of two weeks. The venue is often shrouded in so much secrecy that we all stumble on a twitter notification with an accompanying photo of the occupant of the house on the Hill. At that notification, the media falls on each other on who will be first to interview the top candidate. Sounds great!

Even as schools grapple with when they shall re-open, the fate of the regular schooling hangs in the balance. Uncertainty looms on the future of the school system post-COVID and the role of parents. It is not farfetched to conclude that the fundamentals of the school system are shaken to the core. Schooling and education that we knew before March 13, 2020, in Kenya will never be the same. The case of parents in a multi-million fee-paying school in Nairobi seeking judicial intervention to stop the school administration from invoicing the second term fees tells it all.

Parents across the private schools have safely adopted the wait and see approach when it comes to paying the fee for the second term. The agency is sending shockwaves to the schools, now pitching a humanitarian tone against the surging defiance. It appears that the situation is degenerating fast into the worst financial crisis for private schools. Not at any point in our history has our cosmetic private school system faced such resistance from the “cooperative parents.” The many private schools are on clutching on a straw, staring at imminent death. Contagion is real. The fate of the schools that ameliorated every shopping centre, town-centre and city estates (some who would girt away sleep-deprived children into chilly classrooms) remains unknown. It was a ticking time bomb that the pithy premises used were built on sinking sand. No fundamentals. Some schools charged the unsuspecting parents an arm and a leg in the disguise of “quality education.” The premium services in private schools came with a Disney promise transforming the young minds into fashion stars, swimming stars, little scholars, vocalists, instrumentalists, ballerina superstars, among other outcome tags at just age five. The elusive middle-class callously took the fake promissory note.

While this insatiable privatisation of education thrived, public schools got mass wasted in condemned infrastructure, stinking latrines, overburdened school managers, demotivated teachers under an overzealous employer, and “invincible” policymakers. The private schools had a field day. In what history will judge as one of the megaeduscams of the 21st century, private funds beyond borders were endlessly flowing. And with some financial institutions out to live true to the end justifies the means doctrine, moral abeyance deepened as policymakers turned their eyes away. The artificial demand by the middle class created, baptised, fashioned, orchestrated, and lived a narrative called “quest to quality education.” The chain of academies and groups of schools occupied every corridor and pathway. No doubt, some of the children helplessly died in the shanties called classrooms but we accepted and moved on with the obsession for the 2022 politics.

Amidst this normalised public abeyance, policy negligence plummeted. Parental responsibility in designing and delivering a meaningful education reached an all-time low. Rather than focus on competencies, the country went into an examination frenzy. The examination celebration circus where ten children would be sought for by each multi-thousand cameras to lecture the nation on the “secret to examination success” became an accepted doctrine.  Teaching and learning got replaced with revision and searched for grades. Would you remember the university that invited a top KCPE candidate to address the graduation congregation presided over by a former head of state?

Today, COVID has played one crucial function of education- it has equalised all of us. As we get wasted away in our homes with the reality that schools will not open in May (a first in history), it is now everybody for him and herself, alone and with their children. Policy decisions look incoherent on the response to learning.  I have seen social media memes in our usual characteristic mood taunting parents to unleash the best of their “teaching” skills. A friend who is a teacher-parent confided in me that she was struggling to teach her seven-year-old son. We are swimming in these uncharted waters. Amazing.

As we stare at the imminent postponement of re-opening schools beyond June 5, let us sip the bitter pill of our collective malignance on matters of public interest. Perhaps, some revelation will come as we watch the daily briefs on how we delegated the entire education responsibility to a poorly thought out schooling system that cannot comprehend and respond to the 21st-century needs. The question is, did we as the society over trust the school? Did we miss the foundations of creating a functional education? In his words, the great teacher Ivan Illich (1920-2002) while arguing against the school said,

” The benefits of many modern technologies and social arrangements, including the school system, undermine human values and human self-sufficiency, freedom, and dignity.”

Come to think of what will make us survive Corona, isn’t it very little of what we learned in school? A pandemic is making us appreciate that life boils down to simple things. We now know that washing hands, wearing face masks, sanitising, staying at home, not shaking hands, and maintaining physical and social distance can save millions of lives of humans and allow nature to take a vacation. Fellow Kenyans, what if we were wrong all along in how we designed, packaged, and delivered our education?


© The Opt-mist


Published by Amos Kaburu

We are not liberated until education is liberated from the system!

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