Whichever education system we adopt, it must challenge students’ thinking capacity

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By Mukurima X Muriuki

The 8-4-4 education system is good for Kenya and as such it should be retained. The proposal to change the system to a 2-6-6-3, in my opinion, will not cater in any way, to the demands of our economy. If eventually there is no turning back and the change has to be, I suggest that the process involve a public debate where all stake holders can engage in a constructive debate on the pros and cons of such a switch. Ultimately, this will we avoid the mistakes the country made after adopting the North American 8-4-4 system that aimed at a practical and production oriented curriculum, breaking away from the British 7-4-2-3 which experts decried for its general approach.

It is common knowledge that 1986 reform did not include a change of the examination system, which had a strong effect on curriculum. As a result, just like the previous system, the 8-4-4 system continued to motivate a repetition of grades, high dropout rates and a tendency to teach content-matter driven, and merely as a preparation for the exams.

As most will agree, 8-4-4 system has little attention for skills such as problem solving, creativity and independent thinking. Education should raise the awareness of the students so that they become subjects, rather than objects, of the world. This is done by teaching students to think democratically and to continually question and make meaning from everything they learn. Yet, we all agree that knowledge is a social construct and as to the benefit of society, should raise the awareness of the students so that they become subjects, rather than objects, of the world. This would be achieved by teaching students to think democratically and to continually question and make meaning from everything they learn.

My friend Gabriel Oguda has eloquently pontificated on this same subject on his Facebook wall. He has weaved through the sacrosanct benefits that most of us have accrued from the 8-4-4 system. Of special mention is how we learnt, through the arts, to be self-sufficient. For example, one can iron a shirt, patch a torn trouser using back stitch or running stitch, or serenade a girl with a flute using  skills learned in music class! However, I would opine that these skills, while important in the 90’s, may not be of any help in a world that is tilting towards technology in every sense. We must therefore, with every turn, be challenging our ability to compete in science and math-subjects that will help produce the next innovators and frontiers in areas that we currently lag behind.

It’s fallacious, and Paul Freire in the Pedagogy of the Oppressed agrees, to look at the education system like a bank, a large repository where students come to withdraw the knowledge they need for life. Knowledge is not a set commodity that is passed from the teachers to the students. Students must construct knowledge from knowledge they already possess.  This means teachers must learn how the students understand the world so that the teacher understands how the student can learn.

Even if we change the education system, but still seek to drive political capital from that system, then we would have misled society. Today, schools have become tools that are used by parents, business and the community to impose their values and beliefs. A school in Kisumu will probably not tell a positive side of Jomo Kenyatta, much as a school in Gatundu would keep away from rekindling the passion of Tom Mboya to students. To this end, we must turn away from a system that distorts facts and history for the sake of political correctness.