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Riots: Society should bear its blame

NAIROBI, July 23 – Education Minister Sam Ongeri was addressing Parliament Tuesday, where he outlined what ‘experts’ in his ministry have deduced to be the main demons that have possessed our secondary schools in the last two months.

Ongeri told attentive Members of Parliament (MPs) that fear of mock examinations, weak institutional management, political causes and other external factors (whatever those are), as well as drug and substance abuse had brought had caused the mad school riots.

Let us debate his points, one by one.

Mock examinations

According to the Minister, a seemingly well-orchestrated rumour had been doing the rounds suggesting that results of the mock examinations would be factored into the overall results for the 2008 KCSE examinations.
Apparently, the students suddenly felt the pressure. It is like being told that KCSE would start in twenty four hours, while all along you had given yourself an extra three months to prepare.

The reason why someone would spread such a baffling rumour is neither here nor there. The greater issue is the weight our education system has over the years placed on a single examination. Regardless of one’s performance over four years of secondary school, how they score in the KCSE exam is what shapes their lives; it determines their entry to university, college, or even chances of them securing gainful employment.

The fiasco created by the "computer glitch" in the 2007 KCSE results adds to the pressure. A computer may also "miscalculate" your final score, and you end up having to plead for admission in some macabre tertiary institution to study "computers"!

Maybe its high time authorities took another look at the education system. Not just the syllabus as some have pointed out, but the value attached to the learning process, Vis a Vis the result of one examination.

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Institutional Management

Here, I assume the Minister was referring to head teachers and school boards. I wonder if his officials had factored in the monitoring role played by Education Officers.

Remember the days when a Provincial Education Officer (PEO) or their juniors at the district level (DEO) had much clout? These officers would conduct impromptu visits to schools, sometimes sit in class to evaluate a teacher’s skills and even go through the syllabus progress with head teachers. Does this still happen, leave alone with any vigour?

Do head teachers undergo specific management training before they are promoted or even sent for refresher courses (assuming of course that there was an inaugural course to begin with)? What yardstick did ministry officials use conclude there was "weak institutional management"?

Interesting to note too is that Minister Ongeri did not spell out any measures that would be taken to address this critical handicap in our schools.

Political interference and other ‘external factors’

According to Ongeri, some politicians are on record vowing to change the management of their local schools once elected into office. He says such politicians often want to see "our people" running the institutions, thus compromising the quality of education.

The way forward? The Minister said nothing further on this matter!

Drugs and substance abuse

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It is common knowledge that students are increasingly getting access to drugs and smuggling them into schools.

Teachers have in the past complained about the increasing cases of drug abuse, often pointing an accusing finger at parents for abdicating their responsibility to keep their children on the right path.

Parents, teachers say, are usually in denial when confronted about their child’s behaviour and possibility of substance abuse. They (parents) apparently refuse to believe that their sons or daughters are culpable, often claiming that teachers waged a vendetta against their children.

Well, if the events of the past two months are anything to go by, then clearly, it is about time that the society woke up to smell the coffee.

The upbringing of our children is wanting. It is a reflection of our (society’s) own failure to manage our lives.

The sooner we all faced the truth, the sooner would we be able to reverse this trend.

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