Kenya’s Education Proposition

Published on 1st October 2012

After intense bargaining, Kenya’s treasury has finally submitted to the salary increase demands, successfully bringing to an end the month long industrial action by the nation’s public schools’ teachers. As the teachers laugh all the way to the bank, the quality and effectiveness of the current education model and its ability to address the workforce needs – for the future is questionable.

The justification at the heart of the perennial salary increase demands is a suggestion that the teacher is at the center of the current model of education. This convenient assumption might have been true at the time of the design of the education complex, but it has since been overtaken by events.

Advancement in technology, increased access to information coupled with a change in the learning styles among learners has caused a shift in the learning ecosystem; placing the learner at the center and relegating the traditional teacher to the periphery.

Having ensured that teachers return to class - we must embark on understanding the learning ecosystem and consequently build effective models which embrace our realities and offer aspiration for the future.

The different student

The current teenager is different from the one who the national curriculum was designed for. The student no longer relies on the text book, the teacher and the school library as the only available references. Many classrooms across the world are now accessible to the learner on YouTube. The student can no longer afford a half hour concentration span for the traditional teacher. The legitimate length of time for such a teacher is only as long as it takes to start a computer or to load an internet page.

To legitimately earn the students’ concentration, the teacher either has to conform to patterns familiar to the student or to attempt to compete with the most available distraction (technology).

The cell phone, the television, the internet, the computer and computer games have gradually re-engineered the learning process to allow for participation and give control to the user – a reality that does not exist in the traditional classroom. The teenager is no longer a passive learner but an active participant in the learning process. Through these technologies, the teenager has learnt to curate and participate in his learning.

The teenager’s reality is interactive, in full color, in life size dimensions and is bereft of the long term perspectives of yesterday’s class room. The two dimension learning model in the traditional classroom has since been overtaken by events.

The kind of person

The national education curriculum is obsessed with developing cognitive skills at the expense of other critical non cognitive skills which are increasingly becoming more important in the learning and living environment of the student.

The teenager is living in a high pressurized, thrift, loud and hyper consumerist society. The teenager is more prone to experience family dysfunction, over stimulation, information overload, uncertainty and desperate cravings (consumerism).

An education proposition which does not acknowledge the living and learning environment of the learner will soon become a stress factor. The education proposition must encourage the learner to participate in stress management, self-care, develop autonomy and decision making skills and more important, help the learner to delay gratification.

Education must be designed to help build competencies which enable young people to make informed decisions, communicate effectively, and develop self-awareness and self-management skills which are critical for a healthy community life, a successful and meaningful personal life, and for positive social relationships.

The education proposition must be pragmatic in addressing what young people must have, to function well in society as they find it; those skills which help learners to shape their world, not just cope with it.

The needs of the future 

Increasingly, the future seems dynamic and uncertain. These are the two most probable characterization of the society in which the teenager is preparing to live and work.

The working and living environment are fast changing; faster than the education committee can imagine. The core of the economy is fast changing from industrial complex to the creative economy. The workforce prepared in classrooms across the country is meant to operate in a globalized economy and must have a digital and liquid mindset to thrive.

Work place is no longer in the office, the institution no longer offers security, and growth is no longer linear. The traditional hierarchy has since collapsed; in this reality, there are only two players remaining - the innovator and the consumer.

Young people are now seeking for opportunities which link happiness to work. Work is no longer separate from personal life. In fact there are more young people who want to open their own businesses than those who are seeking employment.

The future is characterized by constant feedback, quick exchange of knowledge, discovery, mobility, shared workspaces and fun. We must ask more questions about our national education proposition; does the current education model encourage curiosity and passion among our learners? Does the learning emphasize on the development of the whole person? What is the role of the teacher in the new learning environment? Are the graduates able to adapt and lead a fulfilling life?

Would it make sense for students to emulate their teachers by boycotting school, refusing to take the (cognitive skills based) standardized tests? What if the students demanded for a refund of half the sum of the fees already paid, for undelivered education services? Would the teachers and education planners urgently review the model and content of the education ecosystem? Wouldn’t it be great to convene a student led curriculum review? Would this help the process?

By George Gachara.

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