Monday, March 3, 2014


This week saw the release of O-Level results with the attendant drama and fanfare,

We n the media went to great lengths to analyse the results regaling our readers with top students, schools and district as well as a liberal offerings of candidate testimonies and ambitions. It all made for good reading – depending on who you were, and probably inspired a few prospective candidates.

For some of us who went to school in a gone bye era it never ceases to amaze at the way these k ids are churning out top marks like clock work. Whereas only seven in a hundred candidates actually got a division ones the proliferation of the kids maxing out with eight points in eight subjects continues to grow every year. Twenty years ago eight-in-eight students were an aberration.

The explosion in enrolment numbers up and down the school system, the proliferation of private schools and the greater affluence of some parents could be the causes of this super achievement relative to a few years ago.

On paper we are churning out “brighter” students but one has to wonder.

Our education system is a relic of the colonial era, where the British wanted to provide the bare essentials of reading, writing and counting skills so that locals can help run the empire. It was more cost effective – it still is, to have locals run some menial tasks like push paper and execute basic instructions, than to import higher wage labour.

We have added a few subjects but the heavy emphasis on theory remains.

This kind of education is all very nice for a situation where there are rigid hierarchical organisations, where the boss knows everything and the rest are awaiting his command. But the world is increasingly flattening out with key decisions being made at every level of organisation.  The boss’ role increasingly is that of creating the environment for these multitude of decisions to be made effectively and efficiently.

Related to that, many layers of work are being collapsed into fewer and fewer positions with greater automation and computerisation.

So for example the secretary whose basic function was to type and gatekeep for the boss is a dieing breed. For starters the pool of secretaries at the bosses’ beck and call are no more. The bosses type their own letters, make their own calls and pour their own tea.

In the newspaper industry a whole layer of workers -- typesetters, proofreaders and darkroom staff were swept away with the introduction of computers.

Increased automation points to one thing that the acquisition information is not critical – who needs the multiplication tables when they are using calculators in primary school, but how you apply that information.

The truth is, it has always been like that, but the increased numbers being churned out of our schools and the resultant competition for jobs and in the general market place, means that everybody “knows” so what sets the best apart from the rest is how best they can apply what they know?

An education system which continues to emphasis rote learning therefore may not be doing our kids a favour.

We can argue about the practicality of the curriculum but the system’s failure goes beyond that.

In colonial Africa there were schools for the whites and schools for the Africans. They all learnt how to read, write and count. Apart from a presumably better quality of teachers in the white schools, they was also strong attention paid to sport and extra-curricular activities. In addition to imparting information these schools cultivated initiative, social and leadership skills. The system was designed to produce leaders not just paper pushers. When the colonialists shipped out and Africans started to file into these schools it is not surprising that the future black leaders came from these same schools.
This dichotomy persists all around the world and is a good indicator of who will lead and who will be led.

What our schools are doing now, with exams as an end rather than a means to an end, is regressing to the colonial black schools model.

But what do our school owners care? As long as they are making their money and the education ministry is not enforcing standards, they are ok.

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