Sunday, August 26, 2012

Learners should not bear failures of the system

Sunday Nation 26 August 2012

As we continue to debate the merits and demerits of asking children to go to school during “school holidays”, there is a feeling that the debate is lacking in factual content, and is mainly concerned with emotional and financial considerations.
Perhaps the reason teachers and other proponents are unable to provide convincing arguments in favour of holiday tuition is that these reasons do not actually exist.

To recap, the following reasons are cited. First, that they need these extra classes to complete the curriculum. Second, that weak students need the extra classes to catch up with the others. Third, that some schools are less endowed with resources and need extra tuition to catch up with better resourced schools.

A critical examination of these reasons reveals that there is no serious justification for this practice. The first argument about inability to complete the curriculum in the allocated time speaks to a lack of expertise on the part of education planners, managers and implementers. The consequences of this failure should not be loaded on the children.

If the curriculum is overloaded, it should be decongested. If the school managers are unable to plan well enough to complete the curriculum during the school term, they should be retrained or retrenched. The same fate should befall teachers who are unable to complete the curriculum in the time stipulated by education experts.

The “weak student” argument does not justify subjecting whole classes to holiday tuition. It is unlikely that a whole class or school has only weak students, necessitating extra tuition for all of them.
The “under-resourced school” argument similarly does not adequately explain the nationwide craze for holiday tuition. In any case, if a school has no resources to deliver the curriculum during the school term, where do these resources materialise from during the holidays?

In my view, the diagnosis of the problem by the teachers may be correct, but the prescribed treatment (holiday tuition) is not beneficial, and may even be harmful. The truth is that the problems identified cannot be redressed by extra tuition which, as demonstrated below, may be more harmful than beneficial to the children.

Children learn through both didactic and experiential processes. Play and non-academic pursuits are just as important in learning as is classroom instruction and their absence stymies the children’s experiences, interfering with development of critical thinking and problem solving skills.

Further, a proper education system is structured to take into consideration the differential rate of cognitive development in children to avoid loading the mind with concepts that it is as yet unable to comprehend.
Extra tuition messes up with this process of gradual introduction of concepts, interfering with learning and creating a cohort of youth that is relatively rigid in their thinking, unable to appreciate experiences outside of what their teacher said in class.

Finally, inadequate rest causes physical and psychological stress, which is not only detrimental to learning, but also increases the risk of mental disorders such as anxiety, depression and other disorders.

Parents advocating for holiday tuition partly because they are not ready to spend time with their “troublesome” children must weigh the purported benefits with the risks identified above, and decide if that is the fate they want for their young ones. 

Dr Lukoye Atwoli is the secretary, Kenya Psychiatric Association and a lecturer at Moi University’s school of medicine; twitter @LukoyeAtwoli

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Regulators should control these religious quacks

By Lukoye Atwoli

Sunday Nation 19 August 2012

A few weeks ago, we were treated to a spectacle in which a famous televangelist was caught on camera tricking his congregation about his healing powers. He allegedly coached a woman to pretend that she had some mouth condition, and then went ahead and claimed to use some divine powers to heal her.

Despite the hullaballoo even in the evangelical Christian community, the noise has now died down, and one should not be surprised if the televangelist has gone back to his regular business.
Distressingly, however, even as the saga raged, national television stations continued to air episodes of other “healing” pastors purportedly treating all kinds of affliction each weekend. Claims are still being made on TV that some of these pastors are curing HIV, cancer and other chronic illnesses using various combinations of prayer and exorcism.
Whenever one first comes across these claims, there is a great temptation to blame the purveyors themselves and, to a lesser extent, the consumers of this sort of tripe. With time, however, one learns that there is a role for the government in all this. Unfortunately, due to fear of the unknown, the occult or religion, those in policy and leadership positions dare not touch these charlatans.
There are government departments responsible for vetting and approving medicines and medical procedures, as well as medical practitioners. They determine who may practise what sort of medicine, the sort of training required, and what substances may be administered as medications or treatments.
On an average day, they keep themselves busy monitoring doctors, hospitals, pharmacies and other health workers. If one were to ask these bodies if they have any role to play in regulating the so-called “religious healers”, they would unanimously respond in the negative.
A closer examination of the facts would, however, prove them wrong. Consider the following actual cases.
A person with HIV/Aids goes to “Bishop” so and so for prayers after “witnessing” his healing abilities on national TV, complete with a parade of emaciated “end-stage HIV patients” who get healed through prayer and exorcism. He goes for these prayers and subsequently stops taking his medications or attending his usual clinic. His condition deteriorates and he dies within a few months.
Another person living with cancer goes through the same routine in the hope for a cure, with the same disastrous results. This is repeated for people with diabetes, hypertension, and even mental illness. One must remember that these “procedures” are not done for free. Beneficiaries are required to make some contribution to the pastor’s kitty.
What would one say these “bishops”, “apostles” and “pastors” are selling? Aren’t they selling medical services, purporting to cure a wide range of chronic diseases? Would the relevant government agencies remain silent if some doctor started advertising her ability to “cure” HIV, cancer or diabetes? Wouldn’t they require her to produce evidence of the efficacy of her methods?
Wouldn’t they subject her purported cures to the most rigorous scientific testing in order to safeguard the health of consumers? Why shouldn’t we require the same standard for these dubious clergymen who traffic in fake miracles?
The Medical Practitioners and Dentists’ Board and other regulatory agencies in the ministries of Health need to get together and control these harmful quacks.
Dr Lukoye Atwoli is the secretary, Kenya Psychiatric Association, and a lecturer at the Moi University’s school of medicine; twitter @LukoyeAtwoli

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Why Kibunjia’s team has got it all wrong

Sunday Nation 12 August 2012

The National Cohesion and Integration Commission has an abiding obsession with tribe, which has now led them into uncharted waters, with potentially disastrous results. We must take this early opportunity to set them straight, and help them to avoid creating conditions that will thwart any integration attempts in this country for generations to come.

Some genius at the commission came up with the idea of tribal power-sharing in the so-called “hot-spots” based on patterns of violence after the last General Election. The idea was to select these multi-ethnic cosmopolitan regions and convince the residents to “share” political seats among the various tribes they belong to, to ensure that all tribes feel a sense of inclusion in the county political leadership.

The plan, according to the commission, went swimmingly until cracks started to emerge in some of the counties due to disagreements over who is empowered to make such decisions on behalf of the tribes, and what seats should be “allocated” to which tribe. In my view, this was the inevitable result of this misguided venture by a publicly funded body whose key remit is to ensure peaceful coexistence among the various peoples of this republic.

We have argued before that “tribe” is an artificial social construct, and it has been demonstrated in many instances to be extremely fluid depending on the method one uses to arrive at it.

Matriarchal societies

For instance, in matriarchal societies, ethnicity is conferred through the mother. If that were to be applied across our country it is a sure bet that an overwhelming majority of Kenyans would have to change their tribes many times over. 

Further, even in patriarchal societies, we have now glimpsed the truth in the saying that while maternity is certain, paternity is a matter of conjecture. Many Kenyans proudly defending their tribes on the basis of their presumptive paternity may be shocked to discover that they are not their fathers’ children, and may belong to a totally different lineage. DNA analysis would prove this, but the easiest way to find out would be to ask their mothers.

In my opinion, this misguided obsession with tribe is one of the factors that continue to drag our country deeper into an abyss of under-achievement and perennial strife. The commission would do well to find ways of highlighting the achievements of the “tribeless” entrepreneurs of our country, and demonstrating the futility of using tribe as a means of political or economic organisation.

Time and again we have demonstrated how gullible Kenyans are being exploited by politicians who only use tribal affiliation to get advantages in political and economic deals, advantages that they do not later share with their presumed “tribesmates”. For a tax-funded agency to fall into this trap is indeed regrettable and, on this basis, one would hope that when their term ends later this year, none of the commissioners should be allowed to continue in office.

They have misused their time in office, and have squandered public funds on hare-brained schemes whose net effect has been to emphasise our ethnic differences instead of improving the environment for integration.

We must therefore look out for a new crop of Kenyans who understand the reality of the new Kenyan “tribe” whose only interest is in building a Kenya future generations will be proud of.

Dr Lukoye Atwoli is the secretary, Kenya Psychiatric Association and a lecturer at Moi University’s school of medicine; twitter @LukoyeAtwoli

Monday, August 6, 2012

Dangers posed by a bungling electoral team


Sunday Nation 05 August 2012

In the recent past, controversy has flared over tendering for biometric voter registration equipment by the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission. Due to missteps within the commission itself as well as overwhelming pressure from politicians and other vested interests, the tender was eventually cancelled, and we are now set to have another manual election next year.
This controversy leaves certain questions unanswered. Firstly, what was the commission’s rationale for trying out biometric voter registration and electronic voting? Has this rationale now been relegated to irrelevance through bureaucratic incompetence?

If the decision was informed by the inept way Mr Samuel Kivuitu’s Electoral Commission mishandled voter registration and vote counting in the 2007 election, then it seems clear that reverting to a manual system will necessarily result in apprehensions about possible fraud next year. If the commission realised that a manual system is easier to rig through vote stuffing and ballot box destruction, how will abandoning an electronic system assuage our fears of a repeat?

Second, are there divisions within the commission that are resulting in this haphazard decision-making and poor communication? Do these perceived divisions have anything to do with the political affiliations of commissioners and employees of the commission?

The goings-on do not inspire confidence. On the day the biometric voter registration tenders were allegedly cancelled, there were reports that some individuals within the commission had tried to sabotage the decision by interfering with publication of the cancellation. Instead, the next day a small advert appeared in the press extending the deadline for application of registration clerks.

If indeed it is true that there are divisions within the commission, it is imperative that they are investigated and eliminated to maintain the confidence of voters. Anything short of this will increase the risk of loss of public confidence in the voting, resulting in reactions most Kenyans would rather not see after the elections.

Thirdly, what are the implications of these controversies as far as the delivery of a free and fair election is concerned? Given the progressively worsening poisoned political environment that we find ourselves in, might it be too late to forestall an inevitable conflagration based on rigging claims as happened after the last General Election?

One would hope that all Kenyans of goodwill will identify this crisis at the commission as a more pressing threat to national stability than even the date of the next General Election itself. We cannot allow our politicians to get away with literal murder this time. If we mess up the next elections, it is almost certain that there will be no Kenya to speak of afterwards, and the cruel finger of history will forever point in our direction as the chief culprits in the destruction of this beautiful country.

We must remember that Justice Kriegler’s report uncovered evidence of rigging in the strongholds of the major political parties competing for power in 2007. Due to manual voter registration and voting, it was possible to enrol dead and non-existent voters.

We must find a safer, less emotive solution to this problem this time, or risk losing all the fragile gains we have made since 2008. 

Dr Lukoye Atwoli is the secretary, Kenya Psychiatric Association and a lecturer at Moi University’s school of medicine; twitter @LukoyeAtwoli