January 27, 2018
By Isaac Mwangi
East African News Agency, Arusha
With the beginning of a new year, schools and other institutions of learning in the region will once again be busy with their usual plans and activities:
Fresh intakes, introduction of new academic programmes, development initiatives, staff training, and so on. The tragedy is that these activities are becoming increasingly disjointed across the region.
It is not in doubt that the region has been involved in activities to harmonise the education sector in the region. This harmonisation, however, has only involved creating standards of equivalence and reciprocity in recognition of qualifications.
This is important, of course, since it enables the movement of labour across all East African Community (EAC) partner states.
By coming up with standards of equivalence, the partner states also enabled the transfer of credits between institutions of higher education, where a student can begin studies in one country and complete the same in another.
But this is hardly enough. Harmonisation of standards should have taken care of the actual content, if equivalence is to be established professionally and not simply out of political expediency.
Moreover, the pedagogy or philosophy behind an education system determines to a large extent the quality of graduates of that system, and this too ought to have been looked into.
As matters stand, the education systems of our countries are miles apart. While in some countries the academic year begins somewhere in the middle of the calendar year, in others it begins in January.
This makes it difficult to have a seamless crossover from one country to another, or for a student to move from one grade and proceed immediately to the next in another country without having to waste some time.
Moreover, the examinations offered also differ greatly. For instance, the past couple of years have seen massive failures in Kenya’s primary and secondary examinations.
The question that arises, then, is whether other East African countries are experiencing the same level of massive failure and if not, what are the implications for Kenya’s children as they go out to compete for opportunities with the rest of the region?
But there are other more fundamental issues as well. Because of the long history of slavery and colonialism, many Africans have completely lost their self-esteem.
The embers of this unfortunate situation have been further kept alive by clueless elites who equate development with westernisation. This was partly the reason behind the ideological differences between Tanzania and Kenya in the years following independence.
Tanzania’s founding father, Mwalimu Julius Nyerere, did very well in encouraging Africans to take pride in their own languages. This resulted in the development of Kiswahili as a national language and as the main medium of instruction in Tanzanian schools.
This noble initiative ought to have been pursued throughout the region, but other countries preferred to glorify the languages of their former colonial masters.
While it is good for a population to be multilingual in today’s changing world, it is the height of folly to ignore local languages and culture so as to glorify foreign ones. Countries such as China, Japan, and South Korea have all progressed dramatically while developing their own languages.
The same applies to countries in the Middle East, which mainly use Arabic. A Chinese engineer, who speaks no English, is not any less qualified than an English-speaking one trained in Kenya, but the Chinese professional will have a greater sense of nationalism and belonging.
Are we prepared to reform our education sector to begin catering for our own needs, in our own language? Are we prepared to bring our traditional experiences in religion, medicine, agriculture, and other spheres to the fore?
Western knowledge has served to denigrate anything African, but it is time that we make a critical reappraisal and turnaround. This does not mean a rejection of everything foreign, but rather a justification of whatever is taught to ensure it is aligned with our own worldview, cultures and environment.
While Kenya has come up with various education systems since independence, these have failed to resolve the country’s development challenges. A new system about to be rolled out does not address critical concerns, either.
As it is, the region – and indeed the whole African continent – is lost in a vain pursuit to attain the standards of the West. An education that turns our children into slaves to serve Western interests and pursuits is no education at all.
Only when we get it right and craft curricula based on an understanding of the region’s interests, one that will free our people from the chains of mental slavery, will we be on the path to true liberation.