By Ogova Ondego
Published August 6, 2013
Kenya’s Education Secretary accused scholars at a book launch in Nairobi on July 18, 2013 of ignorance; that they were criticising the country’s official 8-4-4 system of education either out of ignorance or malice.
Prof Jacob T Kaimenyi, the Cabinet Secretary for Education, Science and Technology, said the country’s Education Curriculum is reviewed every five years and that everyone who has anything to say is usually welcome to do so.
“Be part of the process. Get involved. Coming up with a relevant curriculum should be dictated by need,” Prof Kaimenyi said at Goethe-Institut in Nairobi while presiding over the launch of Incorporating Oral Culture in Education for Development, a 168-page Kenyan-German Alumni Denkfabrik (Think-Tank) for Culture, Education and Development publication. “You can’t be dependent on donors to drive your development agenda.”
So what made the good Professor of Dentistry to tear into his colleagues?
Prof Kimani Njogu, a scholar of Kiswahili and Linguistics, had in his presentation on a panel on ‘Role of Culture in Education for Development in Kenya’ called for the creative economy approach to education; that teachers of sciences and other technical subjects would do well if they introduced ‘creative approaches’ in imparting knowledge to students. Prof Alfred Omenya, an Architecture scholar who now teaches at Kenya Polytechnic that has been renamed Kenya Technical University, said he often employed poetry and other performing arts in teaching Architecture at the University of Nairobi.
But the comments of Dr Garnette Oluoch-Olunya—perhaps quoting Dr Tom Odhiambo of the University of Nairobi’s Literature Department on ‘Using Education for National Development in Kenya: Some Preliminary Thoughts’—that “the 8-4-4 system is in a crisis as it is producing un-employable graduates” are likely the ones that stang Prof Kaimenyi the most as he sat through the whole panel discussion listening to presentations and taking copious notes.
Dr Oluoch-Olunya, formerly of Kenyatta University, noted that the heavy work load of the 8-4-4 system had resulted in stress for ill-prepared relatively younger students as lecturers taught them as if they did their relatively better prepared and older Advanced Level counterparts; the last batch of A-Level students in public schools sat their exam in 1988.
Though she had noted that statements like “Government must…”, “Government should…” employed in the book was ‘disturbing’ as they were not good for ‘negotiation’, Dr Oluoch-Olunya who is now attached to the Go-Down Arts Centre in Nairobi, observed that one has “to have the substance to use technology in education; one must consider all the parameters involved in the process before implementing a policy like that of incorporating Information Communications Technology in education.”
No sooner had Prof Kaimenyi completed his formal speech delivery with “It is now my pleasure to declare the publication on the role of culture in education for development officially launched” than he employed retired President Daniel arap Moi’s famous technique of addressing the ‘real issues’ from a non-scripted, informally delivered speech.
“Any one claiming that 8-4-4 graduates are unemployable is ignorant,” Prof Kaimenyi said. “Have you heard of Greece and those other European countries with their unbearably higher statistics of unemployment?”
On teaching subjects like Physics in local languages, Prof Kaimenyi said, “Do you have enough resources to do it?” Dr Garnette Oluoch-Olunya had touched on the same issue in her presentation: “How many languages can be accommodated in education in a multi-cultural, very mixed society, like Kenya?”
On equipping students with technical skills, Prof Kaimenyi said, “Have you never heard of the Technical Vocational Training Authority, TEVOTA?”
But why would a person of the status of Minister for Education go on the defensive instead of listening to stakeholders and negotiating with them on how to make things better for everyone, including himself? Is Kenya’s education system without any flaw? Really? Then why does Tom Odhiambo, a senior lecturer at the University of Nairobi assert, “I hold the view that the education system in Kenya today is in crisis, and that it is not imparting relevant and adequate skills to students”? Why does performance scholar Salome Mshai Mwangola argue that “We need to be wary of the tendency to consider our education system solely as a factory churning out human resources, and begin to think about how we must use it to prepare the next generation to participate fully in all aspects of life”? Why did a task force appointed by retired President Mwai Kibaki to review the 8-4-4 education system recommend that it be replaced if the system is just fine?
Saying that “The Kenya Constitution 2010 may be a good starting point for…preliminary reflections on how to re-orient the education system in Kenya,” Odhiambo poses six questions that he contends would inform “attempts to resolve the crisis in the education sector in Kenya”:
• What are the Constitutional provisions on the education of the child in Kenya today?
• What are the socio-cultural expectations parents and society have of the education system?
• What economic expectations do parents and society have of the education system?
• What are the expectations of the providers of education?
• How do we tap into knowledge structures, traditions and practices of the diverse cultures in Kenya to enhance the value of our education system?, and
• How do we prepare school leavers for the Global Village where the understanding and use of ICT skills undergird all careers and upward mobility?
But the Incorporating Oral Culture in Education for Development book isn’t about igniting any controversy. It merely suggests ways of integrating orality and Information Communications Technology in the education system in order to come up with an efficacious system that would equip learners with pertinent skills for taking the country to the next level of holistic development.