Re- Thinking the Education Systems
Significance of Quality Education: It has been in the news that there is need for reform in the Kenyan education system especially s tertiary/university education. Kenya has more potential labor resource than capital or land. Therefore, it should invest in offering its people quality education. Quality education, for men and women alike leads to economic development. When people are well educated, their social preferences change, which leads naturally to lowering of things like fertility rates, crimes etc, which are contentious issues in Kenya at the moment.
When people are enlightened, corruption stories diminish because reason, if not theirs then that of those around them, challenges them. The people in the rural areas become more alert and public policy discussions become more reason driven thus leading to beneficial social choices. The politicians who use propaganda to advance their selfish interests will not exploit the people. This sounds so cool and simple but gosh! How is the massive enlightenment to be carried out? Of course, through the institutions charged with such a responsibility. What other institution is charged with such rather than our schools, polytechnics, colleges and universities? It would follow then that the more the people being educated, the better the society. However, it seem not necessarily so, not all people who are educated become better. Better as in capable of correct thinking marked by consistency; people who follow issues to logical conclusions. Such people aspire towards that which is the object of knowledge i.e. the real, the truth!
Questions and Understanding: It is my experience that those who go out to genuinely seek after knowledge find her. After they have found her, she directs her lover or admirer towards learning more in and about her. One insight is a positive condition to the next insight. Insight I can say, anticipates more insights. To know that I am a man anticipates knowledge about manhood or the being of a man. I have also come to know that all people desire to know. All are always curious to know more, to discover and study. For we generally have an aptitude to wonder at phenomena - the world around things as they are and about ourselves. All knowledge we can say stems from wonder, which evokes curiosity. Such that the questions ‘what’, ‘how’, ‘when’, ‘where’, and ultimately ‘why’, can find the object of their anticipation. Each kind of question we ask about something helps us understand or apprehend only a certain aspect in relation to the thing. If I ask ‘what is this’ I definitely inquire about its definition, its essence. If I ask ‘how did this’, in most cases, I am inquiring into what it took to get to the present situation. ‘When’ frames time, ‘where’ the place and ‘why’ inquires into the causality of things. This is just to explain the fact that questions focus us and give us a perspective in our inquiry. When one asks the question “how do people behave”, he/she will get a very different answer from the one who asks, “How should people behave?” More so, the one who asks, “Why do people behave the way the do” or “why should people behave this way” goes further than the ones who ask the former questions. What it implies is that, one can easily, because of some reasons, become satisfied with certain answers, which actually should anticipate further questions.
Questions can also be looked at in terms of relevance and necessity. One who goes to a hospital, is actually at the hospital, and knows that he is at the hospital but then asks, “how can I be sure beyond doubt that I am at the hospital” is asking an absurd question. An absurd question is that which contains or possesses an inherent contradiction. True questions are those that anticipate the truth of something. Clarity comes with knowing the fact; something as it is out there now or as it logically follows. The fact is always self-evident. The one who asks absurd questions is like one who asks, “How can I be sure that I know anything?” Knowing is a prerequisite to asking, for insight anticipates insight. Questions are coined from the already known in the hope for more understanding.
The relevance of a question depends on the context. If one were to be dealing with an animal but then he/she is inquiring into the nature of rocks, he/she will surely be accused of irrelevance because the questions he will pose will not be answered from observing or studying the animal. Therefore, about anything, we have to ask necessary, true and relevant questions if we are to gain insight into it.
Relevance of Learning Institutions: To posses the art of asking relevant, true and necessary questions, one needs proper training, like it or not. Institutions of learning are about helping young people discover the best way of getting knowledge or insight into reality. They should not be places that provide all answers but places where upon completing, a student is able to inquire into things by him/herself and get right answers. This requires that upon completion of studies, students should have learnt to ask all true, relevant and necessary questions. If an institution of learning is about providing answers to all the questions that young people pose, such a school does no better than to stifle the humanness of its students. For humanness is characterized by anticipation of knowledge and not possession of all answers. The one who truly knows in totality is the “Auto-determination in self”. Therefore, if a school claims to provide all answers, whether directly or indirectly, it is only helping some students towards avoiding some relevant and necessary questions. Our world of today is full of intellectual turmoil, why? I think it is because students are being trained to ask questions but irrelevant ones that leave them lost hence easily becoming cynics.
We said that development depends on people using their mental faculties. This fact in itself makes education, which is mainly training of the mental faculties very important. We have also seen that there is a problem with public policy making in many less rich countries. More so, there is also a big problem as concerns policy making at international levels. In one-way or another, we can rightfully agree that some people somewhere are not using their mental faculties properly. The nature of effect in many ways is depended on the cause. If one making a chair is not a skilled carpenter, the chair produced will not be very impressive or exhibit high-tech craftsmanship. Analogically, the same is true of learning institutions and the people they release into society.
Reasons for Being in Learning Institutions: Each year, hundreds and hundreds of young people graduate from universities, colleges, polytechnics and other schools. This people, we assume, have been trained in the best way possible by the staff in the institutions. The big question is, ‘in what are this people trained?’
There are those who have done medicine, law, sociology, management, business studies, psychology or geology. What in particular have they learnt with respect to their disciplines? How have they learnt what they have learnt? What is their goal in studying what they are studying? The answer to the above stated questions frames the kind of questions these students ask, have been taught to ask and the kind of answers they anticipate.
The socioeconomic cum political and religious situation of many nations is challenging. Let me use Kenya, my beloved motherland to illustrate what happens in learning institutions due to what is happening in society. The majority of the Kenyan population is terribly poor. Only about 3 % of the population enjoys a decent standard of living. As for the others, theirs is toiling and more toiling. One needs to visit Nairobi our good Capital City and inevitably he/she will come face to face with the plight of the many. Due to strained socioeconomic and corrupted politico-religious conditions, many people are too busy looking for a way of survival to sit back asking some necessary questions.
Children cram answers and pass primary certification exams. In secondary schools, a little bit more complicated cramming sees them through. At university, the phrase is “I came to pursue for a degree and that is what I will get”. Students do the bare minimum in academics knowing very well that it is not the degree that matters but what it can provide to its holder. So, no question of seeking knowledge for its own sake; knowledge is only but a means, not an end in itself. Anyone who has been in any Kenyan university will testify to the stress that comes with exams. Why? Because many students do not attend classes, they do not read, they wait for the last minute crashing through photocopied notes so as to avoid a failure in whatever paper.
What then are these students busy doing? That is the most interesting part. The answer is, most of them are busy whiling away the time. They just sit around, make noise and involve in anything that will occupy them. Some have to get jobs because maybe they need to support family members or money for whatever purpose. Male students are busy chasing after females while the female students are busy looking for the big shots i.e. the money-loaded guys who can take them places. This is a place of freedom having come from homes where parents were more than patronizing or controlling. This is the mindset of many students; they do not care to work hard and they are somehow justified in doing so because they see what is happening in their society.
The society is a place where leeches are bled to fatten heifers. Unemployment is a marked feature. Getting a first class or not, without connections you are doomed. However, with connections, you do no even need the degree; it is just for formality purposes. Corruption, despite it’s being fought day and night still glares its jaws everywhere. Nepotism and other forms of favoritism are the order of the day. When you see an advertisement in the newspaper, you know it is part of formality because someone has already be taken through the back door but an interview has to be conducted to cheat the general public that proper procedures were undertaken. With such like glaring discouragements, only a few diligent ones can manage to remain steadfast and go for education for its own sake.
Specialization and Professionalism: Let us look at what is being taught. The area of specialization or professionalism plays a big role in determining the impact one has on society. If people want to have a holistic impact on society then specialization and professionalism has to be checked. Who is a lawyer?
He/she is one who steals or cons following proper procedure such that his/her stealing is legally accepted. But since when did the means start justifying the end? Just as the end cannot justify the means, so the means will not justify the end. The end has to be good in itself just as the means should be good in itself. Every year, hundreds of young lawyers are released into society. This people armed with tools for winning arguments are like hungry hyenas. They are out to use their tools to gain in life, which is good if only they were good tools. Like the sophists that Socrates had to contend with, this people seek only the way of winning the argument. They have been trained into the best ways of using fallacious arguments to outwit the less educated clients they represent. In a murder case you will find them asking, “When you found your father bleeding dead, did he tell you that he had been killed?” This people complicate selves in undefined jargon and refuse any effort to explain and make explicit the meaning of the words they use. One of them will say, “As a matter of fact, it is clear that no man is good.” When asked, “in what does goodness consist?” their typical answer will be “goodness consists in goodness.” Yes, tautology, begging the questions, ambiguity, amphiboly, obscurity and acute astuteness are weapons that this people are taught, which is good for their profession for it makes them sound great especially when they offer themselves as learned friends to their gullible consumers. However, the questions this people ask about life, stemming from their studies and practice are very limited. Their contribution to the society remains that of maintaining the status quo because, save for the few exceptional ones, these people do not ask all the relevant and necessary questions.
These people only consider questions, especially the absurd ones, which will bamboozle and leave the prey confused for the sake of winning the case and becoming rich from the remunerations. Of course, their profession allows them to deal with nearly every aspect of society, that is why I concentrate on them, but because of not being trained to transcend and set for themselves higher standards as in understanding things and seeking after the truth, this people limit themselves to making the best out of the complexity that is the process towards the truth. Arriving at the truth is often a complex process. It is often complex because people are complex and because of living conditions, they have learnt to be selfish. They have learnt to stick to opinions and present then as truth. Relativism is their bedrock. Like the old skeptics they ask, “where is truth?” and then they promptly answer themselves “it is persons that posses truth, and truth is as that person posses it, therefore truth depends on individuals.” Little do they consider that truth is knowledge of something whose being is not guaranteed by the perceiver! They do not realize that it is only true that which is. That which is to a perceiver is an object towards which he/she is intentioned. However, when his/her attention turns to something else, such that what is to his/her perception at that moment is something else, it does not mean that his/her former object of intention no longer exists. Consistency in thinking reveals that, the truth remains the truth and it does not depend on us the perceivers.
It is an established fact that we can only claim to be in possession of truth if what we have in our minds conforms to reality. Reality is, was and will be. In reality there is being and becoming.
Establishing causal links for what has already happened can be a very hard task. For those who are truly after truth and nothing but truth, searching for causal links is a humbling task. It cannot be reduced to formation of opinions and accepting opinions as the facts. It requires testing opinions, beliefs, suspicions, and suggestions in every way such that the conclusion may be indubitable. Our schools of law do not teach such humility that comes with being perplexed, being amazed by the complexity. Rather, law students discover first that the process to truth is complex. Secondly, that through persuasion i.e. tasty arguments, one easily convinces another’s intellect. Third, that they can apply this to their own advantage. Having learnt their lessons, they go into society but only to confuse it more by their complicated, learned like, statements that do not necessarily anticipate truth.
Let me not concentrate so much on the lawyers, there are the doctors, sociologists and the many other professionals. Just like lawyers, save for the exceptional few, these people dare not to transcend towards higher standards; the kind of standards that call one to making a positive difference in own society. Many of these, so called, professionals are people who have learnt to repeat. The majority of the sociologists that our universities release into society have learnt that their business is about learning what people are doing with each other then guessing what people will be doing. They remain at the level of observing what people are doing and writing long reports that are later coined into theories or laws that characterize societies. In a few instances, they dare to ask the question “why are people doing what they are doing?” If that is going too far, how would they dare to ask the question “what should people be doing and in what manner should they be doing what they are doing?” Anthropologists will only content with asking, “what were people doing and what are they doing?” Our teachers are very excellent, I am certain, excellent in the art of repeating. They received material, written or oral, which they disseminate with a passion but never do they pose to ask themselves a few questions. They are good because they have kept the theories they learnt at their fingertips but rarely do they seek the practicality of what they know. They know of chemical formulas but rarely do they seek to know how the discoverers came to the formulas and in what way are the formulas deficient. These people wait for some foreigner somewhere to question the existing then they diligently learn his arguments and continue with their business of dissemination.
There are doctors trained in our universities. They learnt in a medical school that when someone has high temperature, fever and looks pale or so, then automatically, order a malaria test. They have crammed such like formulas and repeat them well to everyone’s amazement. All they care about is that they know the symptoms of different diseases; the possible prescriptions and they can apply that for great remunerations. By the way, many people desire to be doctors; at least that is what I have discovered. For every student that I come to interact deeply with, among my many other questions, the question ‘what do you want to be’ doesn’t fail to suffice. Sometimes I ask it in that crude and unspecified terms so that I may get to gauge how reflective my respondents are. After asking such a question, rarely does any one ask me “ in terms of what”. One may be quick to mention that the context determines the kind of answer i.e. when talking about academics and you ask such a question, then the answer should be in the line of professions. But I want to assure the contender that I have often tried to take care of that by playing with contextual factors.
I make sure the question comes out of the blues in the course of our discussion, “what to do you want to be”. But more often than not the answer will be in line of professions. The professions mentioned, of course are medical doctor, lawyer or engineer. Trying to be a good interviewer, I proceed with the question of the sort, ‘what is it that appeals to you in that profession?’ and the more often the answer is ‘the remunerations’.
The fact that people jump to mentioning profession when asked an open question like, “what do you want to be?” is very telling. There are many things that I personally want to be. If you were to ask me, I think the first question will be, “in terms of what?” in terms of religion I want to be the image of God that He/She/It intended me to be. Spiritually, I want to transcend and soar like the eagle in perfect peace, harmony, love and serenity. Academically, I want to be a good enlightened educator. Politically, I want to live as a good citizen exercising my responsibly as a ruled ruler. There are many other aspects of myself in living that I would consider such that when I look into all of them, coalescing them, I would say that I want to be “fully human”. The fact that people rush to mentioning professions when asked the question indicates what their focus is. For many of them, life is about getting into the greatest well paying job so as to afford pleasure and the comforts of this world; hedonism in full maturity. Not all people ascribe to this, but the majority, I can bet would say there is no better philosophy of life than “get the means and have fun for no one knows about tomorrow.” Specialization and professionalism kind of propagates this kind of outlook.
Need for Reforms: Considering all these issues, it occurs to intellect that something is missing in our educational systems. The missing bit lies in what teachers and students focus on in our learning institutions. If the teachers’ business is to go before students and vomit out all that he/she has crammed then the teaching is questionable. If all students seek is to get a degree or whatever qualification, as a means to comfort, the learning is questionable. Education should be about growth, development and progress – a holistic process. Once it fails to be holistic due to some necessary, relevant questions not being asked, there is a danger. The danger lies in what we are witnessing today as full-fledged individualism. The people’s attitude is “get the means and have fun, nothing else matters” and “no one knows about tomorrow, why give a damn?”