This newspaper reported on Tuesday that Prof A.B. Kasozi had thrown a cat among the pigeons by calling for some radical reforms in the education system.
Instead of the two-year A-Level, Prof Kasozi wants an extra year added onto the current seven in primary school, and another to university undergraduate courses. Students would therefore have eight years in primary, four in O-Level and four at university, as currently happens in Kenya.
Two things immediately caught the eye. First, the proposal was made at summit on higher education that Makerere conducted in partnership with North Carolina State University. There was a time Makerere was known for robust debates on topical issues and such dialogues, while few and far between, are a reminder that scholarship, debate and research may still flourish at the Hill between the perennial strikes and suspensions.
Secondly, without even going into an in-depth study of how the proposed system is better than what currently exists, it is good to see fairly radical proposals for change emerging as opposed to the usual pussyfooting around over which subject combinations are required, or how many subjects students should take.
Your columnist’s view is that such radical thinking should start at the base of the education tree, not at the top. Our education/life cycle currently runs thus: Get into the nearest/most affordable nursery school; get into primary school and work one’s way to the top; pass exams to get into a good O-Level school; repeat for A-Level and university; graduate with a good course and degree; find a good job; have children; send them off to repeat the cycle; and hope they finish and enter the earning brackets before your pension runs out so that they can buy you dentures.
To break this cycle (which, incidentally measures fish on their ability to climb trees), we should change things from the bottom. A good place to start is not in the classroom, but in the bedroom – by setting up a national sexual offenders’ database.
In a country with such high levels of sexual violence, including rape and defilement, and one that now has national IDs, it is incomprehensible that people can be employed to work with children without such basic checks. For some of the other changes, we need not reinvent the wheel; we only need to copy and localise. Finland, which we have previously mentioned in these pages, and which has one of the best education systems globally, is a good model to study.
Consider this: Finnish children do not start school until they are seven; classes start after 9am and end before 3pm. Class time is relaxed, giving children a chance to be children, and they are encouraged to collaborate, rather than compete.
Children therefore develop, as they should, as individuals with different skills, interests and personalities; it helps that they aren’t subjected to standardised tests (fish, climb tree) until they are much older, and when they are, these aren’t testing rote learning and ability to memorise and regurgitate, but ability to think.
Compulsory classes end when children turn 16; they can then choose to continue on to university, vocational school, or to pursue other interests.
Of course, some of it is informed by other realities: Short daylight hours during winter, for instance, for short school days maybe, or a welfare state that provides a social safety net for the dreamers and drifters. But fundamentally, their model is designed to allow children find themselves while ours is designed to turn out pre-cast models of so-called professionals.
It might be a useful habit to teach children to wake up at 5am, and to be resilient in the face of adversity. But what is the point of subjecting them to 16-hour days, including several hours carrying backpacks that weigh half their body weight? Are we trying to turn them into special force commandos? Plus, if we believe our relative success as adults is because we walked five miles to school in either direction why are we chauffeuring our children instead of setting them off at dawn to do the same?
It was necessary for older generations to have certain skills – say the ability to carry an elderly relative or younger sibling into the forest when war broke out. Such fortitude is still necessary, but upper body strength or the ability to take 50 canes on the buttocks without flinching are not exactly must-have skills in the fourth industrial revolution.
It is endearing to see veteran scholars and experts like Prof Kasozi re-examining the way we impart and manage knowledge and learning. We should stop preparing our children for the world we survive in, and instead prepare them for a world in which they can thrive.
Mr Kalinaki is a journalist and a poor man’s freedom fighter. [email protected]