All sorts of expressions are being used to describe the performance of students in last year’s Form IV examinations, whose results were announced this week. Some describe the mass failure as a “national shame”, others are calling it a “national disaster”, and you have those who talk about “education mismanagement gone mad.”
I am not blessed with a gift coining expressions to describe such situations, and have simply settled for attempting to see if there is a good side of this scenario.
A headline of one serious daily newspaper aptly read: “Shock as 60 percent of ‘form fours’ get zero”. The story was about the results under discussion in which 26.2 percent of the candidates also scored division IV, which is close to failure, implying that nearly 86 percent of the students performed very poorly.
It is this sobering picture which has tempted stakeholders in the education sector to react emotionally about these results – despite the fact that what has happened was predictable
Honestly speaking, the negative side of what has happened carries more weight, and it is no wonder that the general public and most opinion leaders in society are expressing deep concern.
Many questions are being raised: What kind of future generation are we building with this sort of education background? What is the fate of students currently pursuing their secondary school studies under similar conditions experienced by their failed predecessors? What should be done to salvage the situation?
As these puzzling questions remain unsolved, some observers opine that this cloud might have a silver lining, in the sense that the mass failure shock may probably jolt our minds, enable us to deliberate seriously on our education system, and chart the realistic way forward - we are told that sometimes “shock treatment” works in situations where normal treatment happens to have failed.
Most of the concerns which this wake up call is forcing us to re-think are not new at all. They come up now and then in the endless discussion on our education system, the only setback being that no firm decisions are taken in order to improve the situation.
One of the concerns which have been raised by some stakeholders is that the current approach of attempting to attain universal secondary school education without putting in place a firm foundation for such a project is doing more harm than good.
It is now an open secret that there are two broad categories of schools, namely few ones for children of the elite who can afford high fees for quality education, and hundreds of poorly equipped schools catering for educational needs of citizens in the low income bracket. Most of the students who have performed extremely poorly in last year’s form IV exams are victims of this educational “apartheid”. The trend does not augur well for the future of this nation.
Another burning issue today is about the teaching language. There is no doubt that most of the 60 percent failures and more than 25 percent who got the valueless division IV are partly victims of the linguistic barrier - that is being forced to learn their subjects in English language when they did not get a good foundation in it at primary school level.
A time and energy consuming debate on whether to use Kiswahili or English as a teaching language in secondary schools has been in the air for years. One hopes the examination outcome in the past three years will make us see this reality and take a bold move to resolve the problem.
Then there is the question of teachers. Their problematic relationship with their main employer is well known. Unless their problems are sincerely addressed so that their working morale is restored, the go slow which is also contributing to the poor performance of students in their studies will continue to haunt our education system - of course there are many other issues related to the teaching profession which deserve attention.
As education experts have consistently observed in the past, the education sector is too complex to be effectively handled by one stakeholder. The sooner our policy makers realize this, and work out a mechanism of involving competent representatives of other stakeholders in remolding our education system, the better.
Henry Muhanika is a Media Consultant (firstname.lastname@example.org)