Forum Letter Replies
Formal Education is Indespensable to Management of Modern Society
The Daily Nation and the Star newspapers on June 6, 2014, carried an article in which Mr. David Sonye sneered at the presumed capacity of formal education in developing the leadership competencies needed to manage society.
He claimed formal education had supplanted indigenous knowledge that “kept our communities thriving through generations” saying that the proposed bill requiring prospective legislators in National and county legislatures to have University qualification was misguided.
In principle, possession of post secondary education does not automatically confer leadership competencies to students. However, to dismiss the place of University education in nurturing the knowledge, skills and aptitudes society needs to manage its institutions is shocking.
Modern society has become increasingly complex. The variables and complexities modern Governments and their respective institutions are forced to grapple with are highly technical.
The indigenous knowledge that Sonye deified does not have the insights and technical knowledge that should enable an individual to analyse, discern, or understand the policy problems involved in any situation.
And one cannot properly solve or resolve the policy problems and challenges before him/her without the habits of thinking and reasoning that University Education imparts or should impart to its students.
Quality post Secondary and University Education at its best education, equips individuals with the skills and substantive knowledge that allows them to define and to pursue their own goals, and also allows them to participate in the life of their community as full-fledged, autonomous citizens.
Anthropologist E.B. Taylor defined culture as "that complex whole which includes knowledge, belief, art, morals, law, customs, and many other capabilities and habits acquired by...[members] of society."
Formal education introduces its students to the body of knowledge, beliefs, arts, morals, law, customs and other capabilities that previous and contemporary generations have acquired/developed for their safety and well being.
The indigenous knowledge that the writer glorified had and still has its place in the African society. It did to the mind, heart and spirit of every African child in every generation what formal education ideally does to the minds, hearts and spirit of every modern student in every generation, who is attending or has attended secondary and University education.
Both formal and informal educations transmit certain knowledge, beliefs, attitudes and habits of thinking and behavior to generation to the next but with certain fundamental differences and distinctions.
Informal education catered for small communities and some of the values and skills they respectively propagated were not only limited to that community, but also narrow and jingoistic in orientation.
Needless to say here, the world this system of education sought to interpret was extremely elementary in their social, economic and political organization.
Modern world is bewilderingly complex. So complex that even highly educated people, particularly those who had early specialization at during their undergraduate education find frighteningly herculean to understand.
This is particularly true in the technical operations of Government and any institution—be it public or private institutions.
Notwithstanding the complexity, at bottom, the issues that face any institution—public or private—are universal. Embodied in modern education, in liberal education, are ideals and ideas by which contemporary life and society is knowingly and unknowingly governed. The bank or storehouse of this knowledge and ideals are the great books that have shaped successive civilizations—books written by great thinkers who have deeply thought about life and it should be lived and managed.
Apart from depicting a simple a simply and largely idyllic (which modern society is not), indigenous knowledge was largely oral in nature. It was transmitted from mouth to mouth; through interpersonal communication channels, unlike the formal education we have today. The sage philosopher could not transmit his/her wisdom to the four winds.
Modern education has been stored in physical artifacts such as the book, scientific equipment and an army of people we call teachers, lecturers and tutors.
Teachers, tutors and lecturers not only indentify for us the appropriate books that can help us understand certain facets of knowledge; they also digest or simplify some of these ideas for students before they can fruitfully interact with the books the great thinkers wrote.
American Statesman, Adlai Stevenson defined education(formal as well as informal) is the transmission of ideals as well as knowledge, the cultivation of the ability to distinguish the true and the good from their counterfeits, and the wisdom to prefer the former to the latter.”
This kind of education provides a perspective, self discipline, judgment, courage and power to master the environment.
It is the peculiar function of modern education to cultivate the intellects and communication abilities of learners so that, upon assumption of duties as citizens and as formal leaders of institutions society has at its disposal, to deploy their minds, hearts and spirits to manage the duties society entrusts them with, more effectively, efficiently an honestly.
The gargantuan investments the Government is making in providing education is borne of the conviction that education is the best tool to develop the capacities he country needs to manage public affairs more effectively and efficiently.
Western Countries and middle income countries such as Singapore, Hong Kong, South Korea, Malaysia have leapfrogged in economic development largely because of the investment they have made in education—academic and technical and vocational education and train.
Instead of sneering at the efficacy and beneficence of formal education, critics such as Mr. Sonye, who has evidently himself had formal education, should suggest ways and means of reforming formal education institutions to effectively serve the needs and aspirations o the Country better.
Kenya is facing exciting public policy challenges and opportunities that require men and women who have had quality modern higher education.
It will require men and women who have ha quality post secondary and university education to fill our legislative, executive and judicial institutions. Management of public affairs is a highly technical field. It needs people with knowledge, vision, judgment, wisdom. The place to forge, to cultivate this is in modern educational institutions and not fireplaces as of old. Nor do have these sage philosophers in most of our villages. And if we have, their knowledge is limited to extremely rudimentary issues.
Curriculum Not to Blame For Poor Reading Habits
A host of writers on this column have repeatedly vilified the Kenya Institute of Curriculum Development (KICD) for the poor reading habits of educated Kenyans.
The latest such writers were Abungu Tawo and Tom Olanga who argued that the institute has not included any of the great English playwright, William Shakespeare for study in the integrated English syllabus for over a decade now( Daily Nation, April 27, 2013.)
Students have joined the general criticism of the curriculum going by the remarks by Mohammed Hussein Hassan, a student at Daraja Mbili High School in Kilifi County in an article entitled Blame the curriculum for poor book habits (Daily Nation May, 11, 2013.
The Kenya Institute of curriculum Development has very little to do with the poor reading/book habits among educated Kenyans. The institute does not micro-manage the teaching and learning of language arts in Primary and Secondary education.
The institute has outlined general guidelines that provide the foundation for an effective teaching and learning experience in English as a subject. The ultimate aim of the teaching of English is to enable the learner achieve fluency in the speaking and writing in that English. The English language teacher must, for this reason aim at developing in the learner flexibility and dexterity in the handling of and response to the written and spoken English.
There are two main methods of imparting this fluency in the learner: through extensive and intensive reading of.
Language experts in fact point out that extensive reading should be at the core of the English Language syllabus. The key features of this method are reading of large quantities of material or long texts; for global or general understanding; with the intention of obtaining pleasure from the text. This reading is highly is individualized, with students choosing the book they want to read and that the books are not discussed in class.
The Kenya Institute of Education, as it then was, developed two books by highly experienced teachers of English to guide the teaching of English, entitled a Guide to Teaching English by H.A. Curtis & J. M. Park, published and Teaching English in Kenya Secondary Schools, both published by Jomo Kenyatta Foundation have systematically outlined the kind of teaching and learning experience necessary for learners to develop mastery not only of the English language as a medium of communication, but also one that enabled him/her develop in character and emotionally. The two books strongly recommend that teachers of English develop a well thought out reading programme for students in forms one and two—books that are rich in language, thought and imagination.
Students derive many benefits from this. It helps to build learners' vocabulary, introducing them to words and language chunks that may not be included in short texts, and giving them a sense of common word partnerships.
It also develops their understanding of grammar by allowing them to see all sorts of grammatical structures in use. A language is acquired by exposure, and it is factors such as the level of difficulty, quantity and variety of texts that influence the learning outcomes. Because learners choose the text to read by themselves, this increases their motivation and confidence, and creates a more positive attitude towards reading and language learning.
But what has been the scenario in our schools? The students are plunged into intensive reading of the literature texts they will sit for in the National Examination without having been exposed to a wide range of readings. While intensive reading is important, learners never become fluent and confident readers if this is the extent of their reading practice.
Knowledgeable and skilled teachers of English actually follow these guidelines. They expose students to as many books as possible while in Forms one and two. They also strongly advice school administrations against continuous teaching during normal class hours and outside class hours as this deny the students the opportunity for the independent reading that extensive reading requires. Some of the most profitable extensive reading is done during holidays. One of the most revolting features about holiday tuition and teaching outside normal hours is that it denies the learner the chance to roam among books for pleasure and not for examinations.
The wide latitude the curriculum gives to the English Language teacher and the relatively more contact hours the school timetable gives him/her means that, the teacher has capacity to expose the learners to some of the finest fictional works in English. Students can complete High School having read the finest novels, the finest plays, and the finest poems in the English language over and above the literary texts they study for Literature Papers for the Kenya Certificated for Secondary Educations examinations.
In point of fact, some of the most accomplished people in the academia and the world of affairs—in business, politics and government—nurtured their intellect and all that we admire in them through extensive reading that flexible teaching hours allowed them.
Teaching to the examinations most schools and parents are obsessed about, has killed reading for pleasure. We go terribly wrong when we blame the curriculum developers or policy makers for this.
The Ministry of Education has developed policy guidelines to education that have the ability to provide first rate education to our students; Education that is of high quality. But the commercialism that has permeated public and private school systems is killing the potential to turn this nation into learning and thinking nation. Drilling, cramming can never develop the 21st Century skills the Ministry of Education is poised to offer to learners following the adoption of the new policy on education and training it has developed.
We should blame ourselves and not the curriculum and not the students for the apathy we all have, as a nation, towards reading.
The current generation of learners is not difficult to teach. It is the poor teaching and learning environments that we have created that make them appear difficult to teach. We can transform our learners into highly motivated learners even with the TV, the Computer and the Internet around them if we teachers who are themselves ardent readers of books and not textbooks only.
BY KENNEDY BUHERE
Role of School Library in Curriculum Delivery and Management
Last week the Cabinet Secretary for Education, Science and Technology, Prof. Jacob Kaimenyi officially opened an ultra-modern library at Nairobi School. He took the occasion to urge Boards of Managements in Secondary Schools to employ trained librarians to manage the school library systems in their respective schools.
Kaimenyi’s underscored two basic principles underlying the institution of the library system which most current school leaders across the country have apparently not acknowledged the management of schools.
The first principle underlying the library is that both the library and the school serve the same purpose to achieve a common goal; that the school educates the student through the help of teachers while the library on its own offer tutorial lecture materials to aid verbal classroom teaching.
The second principle is that school librarians are in a critical and unique position to partner with other educators to elevate the reading development of students in the schools.
Librarians have a deep and broad knowledge of the wide variety of reading materials of immense educational value in the school library and beyond. They have the capacity to guide students and even the teachers on the most appropriate reading material that reflect the curriculum and the diverse learning needs of the school community.
In urging Boards of school Managements to employ professional librarians, Prof. Kaimenyi was in effect saying that a a functioning school library or any institutional library for that matter needs a professional librarian to for its optimum usage.
The school library is not an adjunct to what the school is established to accomplish. It complements the school by encouraging private study, which is required by students and teachers who want to attain an enduring education beyond examinations and beyond the grave.
Language experts point out that extensive reading should be at the core of the English Language syllabus. A massive exposure to the well written and spoken word consolidates the knowledge, words, idioms, structures and language use employed in different situations for a variety of purposes, observe Valarie Kibera and Mary Gakunga in a book, Teaching English in Kenya Secondary Schools edited by Mary N.Gakunga and Dougal Blackburn and published by Jomo Kenyatta Foundation.
The school library is the only groove where extensive reading can be done.
Boards of School Management which are providing quality education for that aim to provide students with tools o living an earning a living should have full-fledged libraries which are managed by professional librarians. They not only have books worthy gracing a library shelf, they also have established flexible teaching and learning environments that creates room for students to have quality time in the library.
It is one thing to have a full-fledged library and quite another to let students have the leisure to make effective use of the library. Schools which create rigid teaching and learning programs—programs that force to be class all day long and which have Continuous Assessments Tests (CATs) every week actually render the school library irrelevant to education.
The students are more anxious to cram for a CAT and cannot have time, let alone think about scouring the library for some quaint book on some topic he/she has some special interest to know.
The repositories of all the things we learn are embodied in books. Education is about access to prescribed knowledge, beliefs, attitudes and skills. We access this content through actual teaching of prescribed material by our teachers. The library compliments the teacher in that it provides another opportunity to the highly motivated student to go over what he/she has covered in the classroom by reading books about the concepts the teacher taught. In addition, the student is able to access reading materials that although not within the syllabus, nevertheless, help to consolidate or sublimate the knowledge and skills he/she has acquired.
According to American Library Association, reading is a foundational skill for 21st-century learners.
“Guiding learners to become engaged and effective users of ideas and information and to appreciate literature requires that they develop as strategic readers who can comprehend, analyze, and evaluate text in both print and digital formats,” it observes. Indeed, library is a power house of education. We should see it as a compliment and not an adjunct to schooling.