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ODOTE: A school is more than just good grades

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Education Cabinet Secretary Amina Mohamed
Education Cabinet Secretary Amina Mohamed at Star of the Sea Primary School during the official release of the 2018 KCPE results in Mombasa, November 19, 2018. PHOTO | KEVIN ODIT | NM 

The release of the Kenya Certificate of Primary Education (KCPE) examination results last week as in the past, was greeted with celebrations by the students who excelled. Despite advice that parents should not put undue pressure on their children, the expectation from both parents and candidates was extremely high.

I spoke with several of my friends whose children sat for the KCPE exams. While the children, had performed extremely well in my assessment, the kids were not satisfied with their grades notwithstanding that the majority had obtained above 400 marks.

The above explains what continues to ail our education system. Until we complete the changes to the educational curriculum and move away from an examination approach to learning, the over-focus on marks and grades will not stop. Kids will feel that they have not done well when they see their colleagues celebrating on television and yet they are not part of that group.

It is worse when some argue that they had done better than some of these people in preparatory exams earlier in the year. This cut-throat approach to education does not end with the Standard Eight exams, A few hours after the news of the marks that their children have obtained in the exams, the next race started. This is the race about which school the child will go to for their secondary studies. We have moved away from the period when one waited patiently as a candidate for an admission letter from a secondary school, When the letters arrived, together with your parents, you would choose the best from those that had invited you to join them. If you had done well in the Standard Eight examinations, it most likely was your first choice that you went to. This is no longer the case.

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Parents will over the next one month or so be in a craze looking for the top- cream of schools. The choice is based on several considerations. The key ones, however, remain prestige and performance. Thus, the grades craze continues. As I reflected about this my mind wondered to my high school. I went to Starehe Boys Centre At Starehe, while one knew that they would get good grades during the final exams, the main concern of the centre’s director, the late Geoffrey Griffin, was to develop the total man in all the boys that were entrusted in his care. It is for that reason that the school spent considerable time in clubs, societies, character formation and monitoring developments in areas outside school. Not that education was neglected but life at the School was beyond academics.

The centre was run like a home. It is this philosophy that set Starehe apart from your normal school. It explains why those who went to the School view those who went through the same school as a brother. It is this more than grades that creates bonds among starehian and that would make one desire to go the school. This is the reason why the Chairman of the Kenya National Examination Council (KNEC), Prof George Magoha decried efforts by external forces to deny future generations this approach to running the School. As a beneficiary of the school, I support Prof Magoha’s sentiments and urge the government to support the retention of the Model of Starehe as envisioned by its founders. It is equally important that parents’ choice of schools be influenced by their approach to moulding the young teenagers who have just sat their class eight exams into responsible citizens.

I read a forward on social media making the case that several years from the 2019 exams, those who sat those exams will be playing different roles in society. Both those who were top of those exams and those who were not will be doing their part in nation building.

As long as one has basic academic foundation, the greatest determinant of what one will be doing will be not as much about having been in the top hundred in those exams as it will be about the values that the education system instilled in the kids.

Not that grades should not matter. It is that the role they play in the development of the children and their future has been over-stated. As parents anxiously wait for the children to go to form one, their choices should be recalibrated away from a grades approach to a comprehensive character formation, where grades are just one of the components.

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