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Why Schools Need to Start Looking Beyond Their Fence?

When Mark Zuckerberg’s philanthropy venture invested in Andela, a startup committed to training and recruiting software developers in Africa, he said, “We live in a world where talent is evenly distributed, but opportunity is not. Andela’s mission is to close that gap.”

We all know that every child has the right to an education, and countries such as Kenya are trying hard to provide free education for all. But the one question that people don’t ask more often is, how good is the quality of that education? It’s hard to maintain quality when you have a teacher:pupil ratio of 1:70, when teachers are underpaid and overworked, and there isn’t enough money for proper facilities.

“Don’t you think it would be cool if we lived in a world where educational opportunities were equally distributed?” I asked a friend
once.

“That’s impossible. Rich kids will always have better opportunities than the poor.”

Okay.

The concept of equal opportunities is not really realistic.

What is a little more realistic, however, is defining a minimum quality education for everyone. It’s akin to the concept of a universal basic income. Then at least everybody gets a chance to break out of the poverty cycle, and one’s level of success becomes a function of hard work only and not a function of whether they were schooled in a glass building or under a tree (because the mud-walled school got damaged by heavy rains).

The educational system reflects Ford’s ‘assembly line’ concept to increase efficiency. Schools are set to run like factories where students move from one standard level to another until they throw their graduation caps in the air. And then graduates need to battle the grim reality of a 39.1 % unemployment rate (as reported by the United Nation’s Human Development Index 2017 report).

When it comes to defining a new school model, education and creativity Sir Ken Robinson argues that a new analogy is required. “We treat education like industrial manufacturing when, in reality, it’s closer to organic farming. In farming, crop has different needs at different times in order to produce the greatest yield. Why not apply the process to education?”

The article goes on to say that this practically begins with the teachers getting excited about cultivating their students’ potential. But that’s quite hard when you’re a Kenyan teacher trying to put food on the table. One of my Uber drivers used to be a chemistry teacher in the past.

“What happened?” I asked.

“This pays me more.”

So how do we start thinking differently about all this?

The general opinion here is that the government should take care of it all – the educational system, the unemployment rate – but I personally don’t like the mentality of relying on top-down approach to change. Waiting for things to change is passive. So maybe change has to happen bottom-up.

If you look at the current state of affairs, you notice that schools tend to behave as isolated entities. But what if we encouraged engagement between schools and small businesses in the community. “Diversity Day,” “Global Day,” and “International Day” are names given for days when schools celebrate diversity. They’re pretty popular at every single level of education. Yet why do we only have “Entrepreneurship Day” limited to the university level – in business schools, to be more exact? And why does it have to be a Day? Couldn’t it be something that happens on every weekend throughout the whole year (with more time committed to it during school breaks)?

Getting involved in business should be a requirement for every kid. Some kids will hate it, but everyone needs to experience it to know how the business world works and to develop practical skills, work ethic and trustability. Because if you look at the grand scheme of things, it’s how the economic engine runs. It runs on the exchange of value. Even if you get a 9-5 corporate job, you’re in a business transaction where your time (knowledge/expertise) is being exchanged for money.

So there should be a way to form partnerships between schools and local businesses (SMEs) so students can go out and contribute, whether it’s in a kiosk or a barbershop or with mama mboga across the street. The goal is to bring back the apprenticeship system, and since schools are obsessed with measurable goals and learning objectives, they can tie what’s learnt outside to their curriculum or whatever.

Of course, when you have standard exams like the KCPE and KCSE, it’s really hard to shut down the factory. Or take a break. The line must move on. Some parents argue kids don’t have time. Do me a favor. Keep a 2-week hourly log of what your kid does and then come back to me with the results. Kids do have time at the primary and secondary level. They just dispense it in activities with little ROI.

It’s quite unfortunate that kids are isolated for 16 years within the school fence and aren’t given a chance to contribute to the economy until they graduate. We’re taught how to fix our CV’s and pass interviews and then transfer our self-discipline and obedience to rules from the school to the workplace. Then we wonder why we have dissatisfied employees, depressed students and frustrated people everywhere.

So okay, this is all idealistic, but let’s talk practicalities…how would this integration between schools and SME’s actually work?
We’re still figuring that out, so stay tuned…

This article was co-written by Kago Kagichiri and I.

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Published inEducation
  • Hanan

    I love the analogy to farming. It evokes a sense of patience, gentle nurture, and love. I also like the concept of apprenticeship. It can be applied to modern businesses, but it evokes traditional hand crafts to me, such as carpentry, farming, pottery, etc. I would’ve loved being a carpenter’s apprentice as a kid.

  • Nahla Bawajih

    I agree with involving students in businesses. After so many years of being a ‘text’-book worm I think I could have learnt better if I was involved physically rather than mentally. It helps not only financially but also developing the kid’s personality. But anyways what you are saying will outrage some ppl who thinks getting children into business at this age to secure education is a form of child abuse. Business owners might take advantage of these children too. I agree to these claims to some extent. Even if a child is incapable to work he/she should have the chance to be educated.

    It’s seriously sad that children has to go through this. I learnt yesterday that there are some kids in Jordan cannot afford to go to public schools because they don’t have AED 35 to pay for the school uniform. Thus the school rejects them !!!

    Keep looking for options. You never know what Allah swt might guide you to and cause a positive change in education in Kenya. You are highly educated, and a good thinker ma sha Allah 🙂