Monday, January 18, 2016


There is an interesting illustration going around on the internet about the education system.

In the illustration a bird, monkey, penguin, elephant, fish in a fish bowl, seal and a dog are standing under a tree are lined up in front of a man seating behind a desk, who says,
“For a fair selection everyone has to take the same exam: please climb that tree.”

We need not have said more after that but under the illustration is a telling comment by Albert Einstein which goes, “Everybody is a genius but If you judge a fish on it’s ability to climb a tree it will live its whole life believing that its stupid.”

Einstein who in his later life was widely regarded as a genius could probably relate. As a child he never spoke until he was four, he was brilliant at maths but not much else and in his advanced studies he shunned science practicals for thought experiments. All his education life he was a square peg in a round hole.

This week PLE (Primary Leaving Exam) results were released with the usual fanfare. The results showed that whereas more pupils sat for the exams fewer pupils passed with division ones than last year. A simple analysis by the New Vision also showed that judging by percentage of division ones 19 of the top 20 districts in the country came from urban areas with the exception being Rubirizi district.

This disparities can be attributed mainly to greater private investment in schools in the urban than in the rural areas. These differences have far reaching repercussions into the future if as is well known education achievement is key ingredient in raising incomes.

But one wonders whether even the “bright” kids are really getting a head start in life.

Our educations system – despite all the best intentions, is geared towards testing the candidates’ ability to retain information, retentive memory, which is just one aspect of intelligence.
But one can see how this came about.

In a situation of scarce resources the exams are intended as an objective measure of separating those who are to go to the next level of education. For instance this year 600,868 kids sat for PLE but last year about 450,000 were admitted to secondary school a figure that may go up by a few thousand this year.

"So then the question, are we teaching our kids to become better more productive members of society? And if so are exams necessary? Or are we examining our kids because we cannot accommodate them all at higher levels so we need to find an “objective” way to sieve them?...

What would happen if we did not have exams? For many of us the knee jerk response is that we would have armies of kids getting out of school half-baked without a real grasp of the principles of their subjects. Is learning by rote the only way to learn the basic principles?

The truth is learning by rote is cheaper than learning by practical experience, where you learn the principles and employ them in practical situations. Science for example the amount of investment in labs and other props to teach science practically would swamp most schools and even the government.

Which probably explains why if parents can afford it they send their children to private schools (we tend to call them international schools here).

In a classic case of why the rich will get richer and the poor get poorer. These private schools while not neglecting retentive memory, place heavy emphasis on extra-curricular activities, which develop other facets of intelligence like musical, linguistic and interpersonal intelligence.

The real world is run by the people who beyond being intelligent or clever in the traditional sense and are able to build and sustain teams in pursuit of greater goals, people who have strong interpersonal intelligence. These teams may be businesses, political parties or charitable endeavours.

So while the poor continue to clamour for the four-in-four the rich have moved on training their kids to lead the poor “clever” kids in future.

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