Tag Archives: education

April 2015 – Always Remember.

Terrorists walked in to Garissa University College and massacred students who were only there to get an education. Students who were the beacon of hope for their families. Students who, like most Kenyans, were determined to get an education regardless of their school’s location or proximity to their loved ones. You see, the thing is, unless you are well-connected or you come from old money, education is typically the main way through which you can uplift your family and change your circumstances.

Parents and guardians do everything within their power to make sure their children get an education. Sacrifices are made, loans are taken out, fundraisers are held and furniture sold so that children get an education and a chance at a better life. The families that sent their children to Garissa University College are no different from the rest of us. They did what they had to do, with the resources that they have, in order to ensure their children where educated and had the opportunity to get ahead in life.

For these families to go through this…sigh…there are no words. I can’t even begin to imagine the horror they are experiencing as they try to trace their loved ones. The numerous questions that they are asking themselves. The what-ifs and whys. The uncertainty about the whereabouts of their loved ones.

I read the names of the students who were killed out loud. It reminded me of graduation ceremonies and the fact the students won’t get to graduate. They won’t experience that feeling that you get when your name is called on graduation day. That singular moment that reminds you of the challenges and triumphs that got you to that point. Their loved ones won’t get to sit in the audience and cheer them on on that day. They won’t experience the satisfaction of seeing the fruits of the sacrifices they made for the student.

How could this happen? How? All the promise and potential that each of the students killed carried within them…gone. Why would this be allowed to happen? Why weren’t the students protected? Why wasn’t the university adequately secured? This was a preventable situation, so why wasn’t it prevented?

I hope our leaders are awake and alert now. This cannot keep happening. We need an effective security strategy. We need well-trained and adequately equipped security forces. A system needs to be put in place for security personnel to be able to act on intelligence. Paying lip service to insecurity will not keep any of us safe.

#147notjustanumber is a hashtag that was started on Twitter to memorialize the students who were killed. Please check it out. Behind the statistics are human beings who had hopes, aspirations and dreams.

We Need An Education System Overhaul In Kenya – Part 1

I cannot remember a lot from my primary school Science and Agriculture class. One of the few things that I remember from Arts and Craft class is dovetail joints. The only reason I remember this is because it was the answer to a question on a quiz that I failed. It was also the first time that I was beaten by a teacher using a bamboo stick for getting an answer wrong. You can imagine the shock horror of being beaten during your first week in boarding school. Nothing stings like a bamboo stick, I can tell you that for sure. I did well in the two subjects in the final exams though. All hail the power of cramming.

Fast forward to high school where we had some mandatory subjects and others that we could choose. Now, in my high school the choice was between Art and Home Science. There was no way I was going to choose Art. I barely got the Craft portion of it right in primary and Lord knows I can’t draw to save my life. Home Science was the safer option and I was glad to ditch it after the first two years of high school. I forged on with Biology, Geography, German, History and the mandatory Chemistry, English, Math and Kiswahili. Of the 8 subjects, I was only genuinely interested in 4.5. I don’t particularly consider myself a science-oriented individual so balancing chemical equations was pure frustration. I loved the human part of Geography. As for the physical bit -let’s just say I can only name less than a handful of rocks. We all know the parts of Biology that were cool, everything else just made time move slower. Working with numbers is always fun, until they start throwing the alphabet in there and it all goes left. Passing the exam in some of the subjects was again due to the sheer power of cramming.

Cramming was a key strategy to doing well on exams. Understanding the content didn’t necessarily matter as long as you could regurgitate the information when tested. That’s how a lot of us ended up not retaining the things we learnt. It certainly didn’t help that there was more emphasis on excelling tests than there was on acquiring knowledge. As a result, students ended up being pushed through the system so that they could get to the next stage and become another educator’s concern. This continued singular focus on passing exams is not beneficial especially to students. The problem with this structure is that those who do not get certain marks or grades in the national exam at every level of the education system end up being written off. If you don’t get at least X marks at the primary level national exams then you can’t get into high school. If you don’t get a certain grade or above at the secondary level national exams then you can’t get into public university as a regular student.

Another issue is that the opportunities for students to discover their innate talents and explore their interests are not maximized. A student is in class from around 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., moving from one subject to the next with short breaks every few hours. After that, one is focused on doing homework and preparing for continuous assessment tests and exams – whether that entails actually studying or cramming. Getting good grades is emphasized as the main goal – the be-all and end-all of one’s academic experience. Pursuing one’s other interests is not even presented as an option. As a result, you end up feeling like a failure every time you don’t pass an exam. You start thinking that you are not intelligent and will probably not succeed in life.

Thanks to social media, I see classmates, who stood next to me as we were being caned for getting some question or other wrong on a GHC test in primary school, all prospering in unconventional ways. One of them, for example, paints beautiful pieces of art that make you want to reach into your screen and grab one to hang in your house. Another one is a blossoming entrepreneur. There is one who is a musician and a guitar instructor. The same applies to my high school classmates. Those remedial sessions on Sunday had us believing that we were doomed for not acing Chemistry or Geography or whichever subject we were not excelling in. Turns out getting a question wrong on a test or “failing” Biology is not the end of the world.

The primary and high school academic experience really should include the space for students to explore their other capabilities. Instead of packing every single minute with subjects that do not play up to everyone’s strengths and natural inclinations. It is unfortunate that this cram and pass education structure continues even today when Kenya is awash with proof that one can follow unconventional paths and be successful. I am in no way implying that education is not important because it is. I am simply advocating for a switch to a wholesome multidimensional academic experience.

KENYAN LEADERS = REFUSAL TO PROSPER

Kenyan leaders seem to have a very hostile relationship with the country’s prosperity. They constantly and very determinedly refuse to let us, as a nation, prosper. They have honed their “turn non-issues into issues” skills so well that it’s almost amazing. Almost. They are too busy dodging the country’s pertinent challenges by proposing/passing laws that are so life unchanging it should be a crime.

Last week, members of parliament proposed a law that would result in people being jailed for a year or paying Kshs 2 million for failing to refer to MPs as “Honorable” when addressing them. Yes, you read it correctly…jail time or fine for not referring to an MP as  H.O.N.O.R.A.B.L.E! I understand the title but is it really necessary…especially given the fact that there is very little that is honorable about these MPs!? If you have to threaten Kenyans with punishment/fines so that they can refer to you as “Honorable” then maybe you should question why we are not inclined to refer to you as such to begin with.

According to the MPs, “the principle purpose of this Bill is to promote the good image of the country, foster orderliness, discipline and decorum in the process of governance.” When did having titles promote the image of a country!? If that is the case then we should all get titles. Instant boost to Kenya’s image right there! And orderliness!? Where is this that they are looking for orderliness? If it is at state functions then orderliness will be achieved through proper planning, coordination and execution. Titles are not going to do that for you.  Discipline and decorum in the process of governance!? Say what now!? Titles can make that happen!? Well, we have a president and deputy president that we refer to as such all the time but that hasn’t done anything for us on the governance front, dear MPs. How do you explain that!? Referring to you as member of parliament so and so hasn’t worked out well in that department for us either. MP is a title too no!? Or doesn’t it have the magic that the titles you are proposing have!?

“The Bill also proposes a hierarchy for State officials according to seniority. The ranking of the public officials will see MPs placed higher than governors, Supreme Court judges, former Presidents and Vice-Presidents.” In short, the MPs basically want to feel more superior than other public officials. What is that feeling of superiority going to do for you MPs!? Will it make you better leaders!? Will it ensure that you will play a pivotal role in attainment of the MDGs!? What is this silent fight that you seem to have, especially with governors, all about!? Why are you forcing the rest of us to join your ego trip!?

Dear MPs,

If you really want to foster orderliness, discipline and decorum in the process of governance then simply act right. Be disciplined individually as well as collectively and fulfill the promises that you made to your constituents. It wouldn’t hurt to take your responsibilities seriously instead of making a mockery out of the people who voted you in believing that you would make a difference. There can only be as much order as you want there to be. You are the leaders, you set the pace, you set the tone. Surround yourselves with people, and also be people, who are invested in making a positive impact on Kenyan communities, and all these things will fall into place. You want to be chaotic and then claim that a title will foster orderliness, discipline and decorum!? How now!?

As for promoting the country’s image, well, you can do that by acting right, as mentioned above. Also, tackling the issues that we as a country are facing. Focus your energies on addressing insecurity, corruption, poor education, lack of health care amenities, underdeveloped transport systems, poaching, inconsistent electricity and water supply, among others. If properly addressed, these are some of the things that will boost our country’s image not titles!

Try and get it together quick please.

Sincerely,

A Kenyan.

Kenyan Politicians = Masters of Distraction

I have become convinced that Kenyan politicians are masters of distraction. There must be a special school that they go to in the middle of the night to hone their distraction skills. Seriously, how else can we explain how they intently focus on anything and everything other than the important issues?

Take for example, Aden Duale, the majority leader in the National Assembly. He recently said that homosexuality is a “Western Agenda.” He further stated that it is a problem in Kenya on the same scale as terrorism and should be handled the same way. Where do we begin with this politician’s “logic”!? How is homosexuality a Western Agenda? Mr. Duale, please tell us, what would the West be hoping to achieve/gain from promoting homosexuality? You are after all suggesting that they are promoting it or coercing people into it. To what end though!? Equating homosexuality to terrorism is simply compound foolishness. What consenting adults do really bothers you that much!? Why!?

Instead of tackling insecurity and other developmental issues in the country our politicians are busy discussing ways in which they can police the citizenry’s sexuality. The Westgate Attack, the Likoni Church Attack, the spate of carjackings and violent theft have all been happening under their noses. They are too busy sticking their noses in people’s sexual spaces to take action about such pressing issues though. We see your shady tactics, politicians. Get people talking about homosexuality so they won’t notice your incompetence and reluctant leadership huh!?

As a country, we are well-versed in the accept and move on school of thought. Now, can we accept that homosexuality is not a Western agenda, it is not terrorism and it is not a social evil? Ok…yes? Great! That’s how people are born. You cannot force or will or pray a certain sexual orientation onto a person. People are who they are. Just as you live your truth daily then let others do the same. Please, let’s move on from this fixation with outlawing homosexuality.

Speaking of terrorism. The government clearly does not have a handle on the matter. Dear Politicians…can you address that particular issue? Or will that interfere with all the effort you have been putting into marking time until the next election? What about the increase in insecurity? What about violence against women and rape? Road accidents? Ill-equipped health care facilities? Inadequate education resources? Increase in the cost of living? Youth unemployment? Poor water and electricity supply? Corruption? Any plans on tackling any of these issues or are your agendas too packed with bedroom affairs that you shouldn’t be concerning yourselves with!?

Good News – A Politician Who Gets It

Gals and guys, please lets give a virtual standing ovation + round of applause + drum circle hum to one Dr. Alfred Mutua, the governor for Kenya’s Machakos County. Now, here is a politician who gets it. One who knows what leadership with a purpose means. One who is not too busy pretending to be doing important things by driving around in a luxury vehicle. One who is actually doing important things. One who is taking active steps to ensure the progress of his community. One who is not too afraid to do the work. One who exemplifies the type of leader that Kenya needs.

At the beginning of the year, Dr. Mutua launched a comprehensive security program for his county complete with security officers, security dogs, a security call center and 120 new security vehicles. Security officers have been notorious for not responding in times of need either because they claim they have no vehicle or no fuel for available vehicles. In some cases people have actually been told to commit to buying the fuel before security personnel can respond…SMH. We all know the importance of security. This comprehensive program is thus very welcome. Oh…CCTV cameras have also been installed around the county. Now, if only other county leaders could borrow this leaf.

He also launched a bursary program at the beginning of the year. The Kshs 80M (a lot of money in any currency) fund “is going to benefit orphans, bright and talented students and vulnerable children in the County.” Yes! Investing in the children secures their future and that of generations to come. Also, education is power and a stepping stone to many a realized dreams. After launching the program, he visited a high school in the area and committed to donating money to help them complete a block of classrooms that were under construction. Yes! Ensuring that the students have conducive learning spaces is a step in the right direction. You hear that Mr. President et al.!? Rushing to give students laptops before making sure that they are no longer forced to sit on stones and learn under trees…hmmm.

Earlier this month, he launched the Machakos Peoples’ Park complete with a fountain, amphitheater, benches and washrooms. The park looks great…at least from the pictures that I have seen. It’s all part of a tourism program to attract both local and international tourists to the county.  Another initiative is “Machawood” which is an entertainment center for film, music and arts. This is an exciting one for me. There is so much talent in the area. I remember growing up in Machakos and going to watch plays on Friday nights with my family. Having a center dedicated to this is a win not just for Machakos but any county.

He hasn’t stopped there. The Machakos County government is in the process of constructing major roads within the county. Teams have also been put in place to make sure that any road maintenance issues are addressed with speed and accuracy. The governor and his government are also working with farmers in the area in order to boost agriculture and ensure food security in the region.

Some people on social media say that the governor is being over ambitious. Well, I would rather that than having zero ambitions like most of our politicians. Dr. Alfred Mutua is taking the necessary steps to promote socio-economic growth and development in his county. Kudos to him! I, for one, am looking forward to his other projects. He seems to have a solid plan in place and I hope he has included in that maintenance plans for everything. I urge you to visit his page “Dr. Alfred Mutua” on Facebook for regular updates on the goings on in Machakos County as relates to this.