Sunday, January 16, 2011

Secondary school quotas miss the point

Sunday Nation 16 January 2011

Every parent wants the very best for their child. If they can afford it, they will buy the best clothes and food for their children and ensure that they live in the best house available to them.

Having taken care of these basic needs, most parents will then want their children to have the best education they can afford.

This is what drives even the poorest parent to skimp and save to take their child to the best school in the neighbourhood, often in the hope that the child will benefit from a good education and help the family get a better life.

With the advent of free primary education, schooling became available to a majority of children who would otherwise have missed out.

This was a commendable achievement by the NARC government and any future administration will be hard pressed to match it.

However, the government did not react early enough to deal with the increased numbers of learners, leading to a gradual decline in the quality of the education being provided for free. Hiring of teachers has not matched the demand and facilities continue to be overstretched.

In many areas, parents who can afford it are now taking their children to private schools in the hope that they will get a better quality education than in the public system.

Many ‘‘academies’’ have sprouted all over the place to fill this quality gap and, even in rural hamlets, one finds private schools in the vicinity.

The result is that private schools and ‘‘academies’’ are now producing the ‘‘best’’ overall students and scoring better mean grades than public primary schools.

The Education ministry’s reaction has been very predictable. In a knee-jerk response to the outcry over the poor performance by public schools, the ministry decided to restrict the number of pupils from private schools who will join national secondary schools.

Given that many middle and low-income earners deny themselves a lot of necessities in order to see their children receive a quality education, it beats logic for the ministry to use criteria other than academic merit in selecting pupils to join national schools.

This mentality perpetuates the disdain for meritocracy that had come to characterise the Moi kleptocracy and no one should be surprised if, in future, a leader from this generation maintains that merit counts for nothing.

The bigger problem with this decision, however, is that it glosses over the reasons why learners are performing so poorly in public schools.

If these schools were well equipped and staffed with well-trained teachers, would they still perform as dismally? If teachers in public schools were highly motivated by commensurate pay and a good working environment, would their pupils still lag behind those in private schools?

It has been said that parents who can afford private primary schools can also afford private secondary schools. Are we now advocating the creation of a parallel private education system? Soon learners from private secondary schools will be denied places in public universities.

Eventually, graduates from private universities will not be eligible for jobs in the public sector.

Maybe we should just go ahead and create a private government to run affairs for private citizens whose only craving is a better life for themselves and their offspring!

Dr Lukoye Atwoli is a consultant psychiatrist and lecturer at Moi University School of Medicine.

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