Friday, January 25, 2013

UGANDA'S EDUCATION SYSTEM SHORTCHANGING OUR KIDS


This week the Primary Leaving Exams were released to the usual fanfare we have come to expect over the last decade or so.

Events followed a familiar script with newspapers splashing the top students on their covers, parents trooping to media houses children in tow and the feted scholars telling us how  they want to be doctors, lawyers and engineers but, thankfully not politicians.

We have stopped marveling at the proliferation of perfect scores – four points in the four tested subjects. Candidates are getting four-in-four with disturbing regularity. In an earlier generation getting an eight-in-four, which probably meant all distinctions, was enough to swell the average kid’s little head, now such a candidate slinks off into the corner in dejection.

The question has to be asked, is it that our kids are getting brighter and brighter? The theory of evolution which suggests that we continue to evolve and that offspring will continue to exceed the achievements of their forefathers would make this a feasible assumption.

Or is it on the other hand that our kids are now being specifically honed to achieve four-in-fours like at no other time in our history? The proliferation of private schools whose main marketing tool is the perceived success of its students, has a lot to do with this.

The answer of course can be found in both questions.

In the last two decades with sustained economic growth the access to better schools has improved, so too has the relative health of the population. The kids therefore generally have access to better schooling and with better diet, their brains develop properly and hence their capacity to retain information, which they dutifully download during exam time.

And that is the crux of the matter.

As the private sector has stepped in to fill the gaps in the education sector, exam results have become the end rather than the growing of well-rounded human beings who can operate effectively in the real world.

This means cramming our kids with information within the strict confines of the curriculum while ignoring other aspect of their personal development like character building for instance.

As a result we are churning out brigades of automatons who have good retentive memory but little else.

This situation is not unusual to Uganda. In the late eighties a study in Japan showed that the rate of broken bones by children was growing at an alarming rate. An investigation showed that the children’s bones were weaker than usual and it did not take much to break a bone. At the root of the problem was the enormous pressure society was placing on its youth to excel at academics, which would lead to a job for life in one of the country’s mega corporations. Children were spending more than fourteen hours a day in the classroom, in cram school (coaching) and doing homework leaving no time for sports.

The world has changed since.  The world now demands more independent thinking, communication and entrepreneurship skills and Japanese kids find they have been trained for a working environment that has shriveled.

Broken bones are now the least of the worries that Japanese families face.

There is a growing phenomenon of Japanese kids – suffocated by academic pressure and eventual failure to operate in a new world, shutting themselves away in their rooms for up to 15 years playing video games, surfing the net and watching TV.

Our education system was designed by a colonial system that needed subservient, paper pushes to man the administration, which would guarantee you a job for the rest of your working life and a pension for the rest of your life.

In my time I competed with Ugandans. The current generation is competing with East Africans, by the time my four year old son makes it to the work place the competition will be global.

He will need to not only be proficient in several international languages, he will also have to shed the inferiorities of his forefathers to allow him to work anywhere in the world and if all else fails he will go into business for himself.

Good grades still count, but when they become an end in themselves rather than a means to the greater goal of creating well rounded individuals equipped top take on the future you know the system has passed its sale-by date.

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