If a country wants to destroy itself, let it mess up its education. The strike by Kenya’s lecturers and reforms being undertaken by the country’s Ministry of Education and the Teachers Service Commission are hell bent towards destroying our country. Their stance can be likened to what feminist Loretta Ross refers to as the ‘call out culture’ rather than the ‘call in culture.’ Whereas the former is good at finger pointing, the latter attempts to be part of the solution.
The alleged report that tutors will be penalized for unkempt hair and wearing shabby clothes is repugnant, colonial and reduces educationists to second rate citizens who need to be civilized. Those who advocate for such measures ignore the fact that the education managers, teachers and lecturers are inextricably connected and need each other in the preparation of the next generation of our community. They also don’t question what has led to teachers wearing torn clothes, not combing their hair or not performing per excellence.
During my school days, teachers were selfless, smart and highly motivated. My teachers, Mwalimu Lazarus, Marubu, Lucia, Magdalene, Mbuthi, Fan and Kinyanjui in Ngethu Primary school were clean, time conscious, dedicated and change agents. My university lecturers: Celia Nyamweru, Michael Darkoh, Kamuyu wa Kangethe, Badru Katerega, Agnes Musyoki, Edward Sifuna, Bogonko, Francis Wegulo, Jennifer Riria, and Munavu were well read, punctual in class, followed up on assignments, awarded fair marks and never lost exam scripts.
What has eroded the dignity of the teachers? How can we reclaim this dignity? The current rot in our education system is a product of sacrificing knowledge on the altar of financial pursuit. Merit has been replaced with nepotism and how much money can exchange hands. I remember one female cardiologist on a local TV channel making a mockery of teachers for earning peanuts. Her comments were a great disservice to the teaching profession.
Research, thinking and creativity have been drowned by the pursuit of getting rich quickly through consultancies, hopping from one university to the other and even carrying out lessons at night. The brand of thinking borne by academia such as Katama Mkangi, Kamonji Wachira, Edward Oyugi, Ngugi wa Thiongo, Mukaru Nganga and Micere Mugo has been clouded by ‘money thinking’ lecturers. While the early brand of lecturers identified themselves with the plight of masses and fought alongside them, the current lecturers don’t have their students in mind. They spend little time reading, abstracting or theorizing ideas.
They are keen to land academic ventures that will add quick bucks in their pockets. A look at the University parking lot will reveal that where Volkswagens, DatSuns and Toyota Corolla used to park, Mercedes Benzes, Prados, Harriers and Lexus and V8hs now dominate.
Notice boards that once carried recent book adverts, inaugural lectures, exhibitions, or seminars now advertise cars, houses or plots. Instead of skills impartation, research and every student counting in the learning process, the government and university managers are concerned with averages, mean scores and tick boxes. Values and norms of such philosophies as ubuntu or panafricanism have been replaced with courses on how to make more money. Books of interest are those that train learners on how to influence people or become millionaires.
The introduction of Trimesters has been advanced so that the syllabus can be covered within the shortest time. The libraries are always almost empty except during examinations. Reading for knowledge sake or carrying out research to generate knowledge has been replaced with needs assessments, opinion surveys or action oriented research.
Our type of education does not capture the real issues that ail our societies. The numerous action research carried in places like Kibera and other informal settlements in Nairobi has not solved the problems in these areas. Studies on gender, the informal sector etc have not solved the gender and informal economy challenges. Action oriented research on Malaria and other preventable and treatable illnesses have not yielded results. Cholera is now pronounced even in high end eating joints.
We need serious scholarship like the one advanced by Adam Smith in The Wealth of the Nations. Scholar must be given the necessary infrastructure (without worries of basic needs) to think through massive data and come up with solutions. The technical quick fixes of need assessments and action oriented research have enriched the consultants and left behind massive development problems.
Our education system stands irrelevant to the needs of our society. We need to go back to basic disciplinary research to salvage our society. Let us restore scholarship and resist quick fixes.
By Dr Mary N. Kinyanjui
The author firstname.lastname@example.org is a writer, researcher, teacher, community organizer, volunteer and a firm believer in social economic justice and self-reliance. She is a senior research fellow at the Institute for Development Studies, University of Nairobi. She holds a PhD in Geography from Fitzwilliam College, University of Cambridge. Currently she is a visiting associate at the Five Colleges Women Studies Research Center, Mount Holyoke.