Attending school assemblies in high school was a real chore. First, I’ve never been a morning person so while on other days I could innovate a way of dozing off the morning prep without getting caught, it was difficult to get a comfortable shut-eye when you’re standing listening to weekly announcements. The hardest part about those mornings, however, was when our school principal would take her time to lecture us on how our mean-score is lagging behind and we needed to put in extra work. She would compare us to national schools across the country which had covered the whole four-year syllabus by the time students were done with Form Three and would remain with the final year to revise and get ready for the main exam.
Sharing narratives with my colleagues from other schools, I noticed that this over-emphasis of attaining a certain mean score had become a trend. Students preparing for KCPE and KCPE exams would be drilled and taught tips on how to pass exams while other parts of the school cirriculum would be ignored.
The significance the mean-score
Looking at schools as a business whose main source of profits comes from the high enrollment of students, we may begin to understand why exam results mean a lot to school heads. While a good environment and state-of-the-art facilities are lucrative features, nothing seems to attract students in large numbers than a high mean-score in national exams. Once a school produces good results, parents flood the administration offices with their children ready to buy the school uniform.
A good parent wants to give children the best education money can buy and is therefore ready to pay a lot of fees in a school where they are confident of good results.
In extreme cases, parents have been found paying bribes to get the leaked exam papers so as to well prepare their candidates.
The current education system uses national exams to determine how a candidate will proceed to the next educational level. The best performing student ends up in a highly acclaimed school and vice versa. With the main determinant being the mean-score, it is no wonder our teachers, parents and students focus on nothing else.
The drilling process
A famous quote by William Butler Yeats says, “Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.” A pail can be filled to its maximum and stays stagnant. With a fire, once you light it, it has the potential to grow and change its surrounding, discovering new ideas and transforming lives. That’s what we want from our education system!
Over-emphasis on final results makes us pump content on our students which we expect them to reproduce during the exams. Learning loses the excitement of understanding the world and becomes a dull exercise of memorizing what one has been taught.
Teachers across the board drill knowledge into students and those who perform poorly are in danger of humiliation and punishment. Parents and guardians are coerced to buy revision books for their students with the promise of exceptional results come exam day.
Dangers of all this
If a teacher is convinced they are teaching what will be examined, they spend no time waiting for the students to discover these truths for themselves. Our system therefore loses the position of thinking where children become copy-pasters of what they were taught even though they cannot tell how they arrived at the answer.
Sections of the curriculum that are not examined are ignored when the process is concentrated on results. Sports, life skills, arts and technical skills which are very crucial for day-to-day life are left with minimal time in the school schedule or completely ignored.
A more dangerous effect of focusing too much on results in our school is that the problem-solving nature of humanity is lost. A good education system is one that enables children to look at the environment around them and use the skills and knowledge they have learnt in school to solve emerging issues. If we teach our descendants to expect an easy life once they succeed (no matter the method they used to pass), we create a generation that feels entitled to demand what they want without having a sense of responsibility to create their own paths and help in building the nation.
While the Kenya Institute of Curriculum Development is working with the public to correct the shortcomings of the education system, I believe it is our responsibility to change the mindset of those around us. A wholistic education should give us more than high grades.