Every morning across this country, children wake up at ungodly hours, sleep-walk through their breakfasts and commute, carry backpacks that are half their weight, spend countless hours dozing off in class, and their evenings poring over loads of homework.
Then the little rats go to bed for a few hours, and repeat the race a few hours later.
Few things concern me and many people I speak to more than the quality of education our children are receiving. Most people fall in three broad categories: those whose children are wasting time in Universal Primary Education (UPE) and Universal Secondary Education (USE)schools; those whose children go to expensive elitist international schools that teach them too much about the world and not enough about themselves; and the majority in the middle whose children go to private local schools where cramming and an unhealthy obsession with passing exams produces children with large memories but empty heads.
With the youngest population in the world, and one of the highest levels of youth unemployment, the poor education and training we are giving our young people should be a national emergency. Yet we too, are sleepwalking into a crisis of epic proportions.
The terrible state of our education system is one of the reasons I am critical of our government. It is also something we can change.
UPE is dead. This column has previously argued for a coupon system where parents choose which UPE or USE schools to take their children to, so that the ensuing competition can raise all boats. Sadly, the government doesn’t have the discipline or motivation to do it. One solution is to liberate the education system, one school at a time.
Take, for instance, Kitante Primary School, which is centrally located and still has some space for co-curricular activities – although the land-grabbers have hit it too, so we would have to hurry!
Turn it into a charter school run privately with public facilities and private money. Let parents come together and raise a pot of money to run the school, hire the best teachers, pay them a living wage and limit class sizes to reasonable levels.
The government can put some money into the pot if it wishes but if it can’t then all it has to do is to bugger off, leave the parents alone, and stop selling off the school land.
Teachers and parents would redevelop the school calendar and curriculum, to have the kids learn more by doing less. For instance, classes would start at 8.45 or 9am and end at 3.45pm so students can find and develop their talents through sport, music, theatre, etc.
Inside the classroom, students would be taught a hybrid curriculum that combines local and African knowledge with global thinking, mathematics, literacy, languages, and social behaviour right from an early age. Instead of cramming, they would be taught how to think and how to learn.
Homework would be sexy; think projects or online quizzes. Parents would be encouraged to become more involved in the education of their children, come in and teach some classes, organise outside trips, and so on.
What we would be trying to do is to develop a school that charges ‘local’ fees and offers a global education, with a not-for-profit model, and then try to replicate the model in other schools.
This all seems dreamy and maybe I should lay off the coffee but smarter folks than your columnist should think this through and help kick-start a revolution to save our education system. All we need are 27 men and women armed with good brains and good hearts. If you need a dreamy writer with a coffee addiction, I am in.