We lost it when we reduced schools to grade factories

When students subject their seemingly helpless teachers to very humiliating taunts or unleash deadly knockout blows on them, stab, maim and kill them or challenge the trained law enforcers to a duel then we are not talking about education but a misguided bravado only reserved for a jungle and not a school


The ongoing macabre destructions in our schools by students shouldn’t surprise us. Anybody purporting to be shocked is either an actor or does not live in this country. Condemning the school and its temporary tenants is also hypocritical.

Perhaps we need a serious conversation on what constitutes this entity known as school that is now being bastardized by society. It should not escape our mind that a school by its nature is a microcosm of our society. An objective critique therefore cannot treat a school in isolation.

Our national goals for education are very clear. That education shall foster nationalism, patriotism and promote national unity; it will promote social, economic, technological and industrial needs for national development; promote sound moral values, individual development, self-fulfillment, social equity and responsibility, and promote respect for and development of Kenya’s rich and varied cultures.

The fires and wanton destruction in our institutions of learning is making nonsense of these well-intended goals. The one million dollar questions are: Are our learners aware of these goals? Have the critical education stakeholders embraced them? How have they been implemented? Are they intertwined with our national goals, aspirations and pathos? Is the value of education depreciating? Is education an end itself or a means to the end?

Education is derived from Latin words: Educare, Educere and Educatum. Educare means to rise up, bring up or nourish. That a child will be brought up or nourished in line with certain ideals. Educere refers to leading out or drawing out. Meaning that education through its process draws out what is best from the child. On the other hand Educatum refers to the act of teaching or training. Training provides facilities for the all round development of the child. A child does not know the possibilities that are therein; it is the educator who knows these possibilities and using the requisite expertise he develops the appropriate methods of nurturing the latent faculties of the child. The purpose of education therefore is to inculcate the knowledge, skill and character of the students that transforms them in to complete beings physically, socially, intellectually, aesthetically and spiritually.

When students subject their seemingly helpless teachers to very humiliating taunts or unleash deadly knockout blows on them, stab, maim and kill them or challenge the trained law enforcers to a duel then we are not talking about education but a misguided bravado only reserved for a jungle and not a school. It is symptomatic of an education system on its deathbed so to speak. Managing schools is becoming riskier and life threatening. Soon the government might be compelled to deploy security officers to all schools beyond national examination periods for 24 hours as seen on key installations.

Whoever said that work without play makes Jack a dull boy was right. We lost our schools when the emphasis was placed on manufacturing grades. Many schools have technically outlawed activities that interfere with the manufacturing of grades. Drama, games, choir, versification, library reading that is not related to examination is regarded as time wasting and is punishable. Teachers who encourage students to participate in such activities are profiled. Concentration on manufacturing of grades has narrowed the areas that students can harness and exhibit their talents and consequently burn the excessive negative energy. The current learning scenarios in schools have totally ignored what Socrates refers to as Thymos in Plato’s seminal work of Republic.

Thymos is that part of soul that craves for recognition, dignity and self-worth. Human beings crave for positive judgment about their worth or dignity. The desire for recognition can come from within a person. But in most cases it largely depends on people around an individual or the society. Human beings feel proud and important when people around them judge them positively. They also feel annoyed when they are undervalued and ashamed when they realize that they have not lived to other people’s standards. Anger and shame can lead to violence for a forced recognition.

Examination grades constitute a very small percentage of the Thymos and yet the road to its attainment is a Gulag torture. All the available time is secured to prepare for examination. Preparing for examinations in our schools is akin to preparing for war. The teaching timetable is packed and spills over to the weekend. The free time outside teaching timetable is used to rush through the syllabus, revision and for testing of numerous examinations. There is hardly anytime for other important co-curriculum activities. The students’ worth is pegged on the grades they attain in the exams. The few who attain them receive all the accolades to the chagrin and envy of the majority ‘failures’. The ‘failures’ are publicly castigated and humiliated. The work of a teacher is to hammer facts, nothing but facts. Schools are nothing but torture camps. Learning is therefore dull and disinteresting.

Schools need elaborate systems of recognition and appreciations, which should incorporate almost all students and teachers. Napoleon Bonaparte, the French Emperor, recognized the importance of recognition and came up with an award system based on merit that rewarded sterling performance in any field. This system was known as The Legion Of Honor, which was summed in these golden words: ‘Man by nature is led by Toys’. The Legion of Honor spoke to the Thymo. For instance, a student who doesn’t excel in academics can still get recognition in sports or drama. His worthiness and dignity will be upheld. He will have every reason to love his school. The teacher who’s subject does not register a respectable mean grade but trains students in athletics or drama to national and international levels will still be appreciated. His Thymos will be enhanced. Such student and teacher will have no reason to hate his school.

At one time in this country, school was a place to be. Students and teachers identified with their schools. We grew in school, we learnt how to sing and sung, we learnt how to play and played, we learnt how to debate and debated, we watched and listened to commentaries of soccer, athletics, and hockey but still passed exams. Exams only came at the end of the term. We read newspapers, magazines, novels and any available books in the school libraries. We discussed these books. I can assure you that it was fun. We cheered our teams and appreciated our school heroes regardless of the performance in exams. We loved school; nobody wanted to be away from school. And when schools closed for end of term holidays, we proudly donned our school uniforms and travelled home. School was second to heaven. Can we then close down the grade factories and bring back our schools!

Writer works at IEBC as manager, electoral training

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