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Setting low education standards: Implications and complications

18th November 2012
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One of the major controversies about the trend of education in our society is on the feeling that those with a final say on the sector are apparently not worried about standards.

In other words those who call the shots in this area are accused of being contented with standards of education provided by our schools which critics contend have been declining as time passes, contrary to expectations of parents and other interested parties.

Of course, there has always been no consensus on this question, as those determined to defend the status quo vehemently question the notion of “standards”, arguing that the so-called standards are relative and that, after all, a given society has a right to set its own benchmarks for evaluating the kind of education relevant to its environment.

The above argument raises more questions than answers, and sounds a bit academic. Findings of the latest research conducted by TWAWEZA organization on primary school education in some East African countries however, discredits this kind of argument by revealing that we have semi-literate primary school leavers in our society, thanks to the education system which leaves much to be desired.

Then there is this classic example which demonstrates that some of the decision makers in the education sector are allergic to quality standards. It is all about the decision by the Ministry of Education to reintroduce a requirement for Form Two students to pass a special examination in order to proceed with further studies.

According to the new directive, those failing to make it will be given an opportunity to repeat a year, and be shown the door on squandering the second chance.

For most of the post-colonial years, this was part and parcel of the education system, but was later abolished without giving the key stakeholders in the education sector convincing reasons behind the change.

If my memory serves me well, the game of abandoning and re-introducing Form Two examinations has been on and off - sometimes depending on the thinking of the Minister in-charge of the education portfolio.

Some of us who went through the system now being reintroduced know that it has one important benefit which ought not be lost for the sake of cost cutting and any other questionable excuses. Form Two special examination helps to keep students busy for the entire period of their four-year secondary school education.

A form one student soon realizes that there is a hurdle to be cleared at the end of his/her second year at the new school, and is conditioned to study hard for academic survival. On entering Form Three, our student sets his/her mind to the final Form Four examinations and can’t afford to fool around.

Now that the Form Two special examination is back, we may sigh with relief and say so far so good. But we are told the pass mark will be 30 per cent. Why such a low pass mark?

What sort of standards are we setting? What kind of mentality are we inculcating in the minds of our children by encouraging them to aim low in life? In other places the opposite is the case, for youths are tuned to aim high and made to believe that the sky is the limit.

Surely, those behind the not so motivating pass mark have got their own reasons although, as usual, are not in a hurry to come out and argue their case convincingly. In the first place, key stakeholders in the education sector are supposed to have been consulted to get their views on such an important decision and endorse it.

The fact that this has not been done is not news as we are somehow used to this kind of situation, much as it is unacceptable and uncalled for. The question is: When and how will this attitude be got rid of?

While no one cares to explain the rationale behind the 30 percent pass mark, yet those conversant with the poor academic performance in most of our schools can hazard a guess that fear of mass failure is behind it all.

In short, it is realized that sticking to an acceptable pass mark in Form Two examinations would mean the end of the education road for many students in most of the secondary schools now serving citizens in the low income bracket.

Again one key question continues to haunt us .Is the lowering of standards a solution to the myriad problems and challenges currently crippling our education system?

Henry Muhanika is a media consultant. hmuhanika@yahoo.com

SOURCE: GUARDIAN ON SUNDAY