Our 2010 Constitution embraces economic and social rights, including the right to education (Article 43).
The right to education as recognized in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights among other international covenants that we have subscribed to.
These covenants oblige states to make primary education free and compulsory, secondary education progressively free and access to higher education equitable.
Having domesticated these covenants in our Constitution, you would expect that this is what education reform would be about. How would such an education reform look like?
I see three critical reforms.
The first is do away with public boarding secondary schools. They are an equity that we must get rid off. There is no point of offering free tuition to parents who are then required to pay an entire year’s cash income for boarding fees.
For the rural poor in particular, this is a double jeopardy since teenage children contribute significantly to family labour after school and on weekends, including such invaluable functions as helping the elderly.
There is, in fact, another big gain that will accrue from doing away with public boarding schools. We are woefully short of tertiary education institutions, a fact that is much lamented. In one fell swoop, we will have infrastructure to address this imbalance. This incidentally, is not new. There is precedence.
When technical secondary schools were phased out, the facilities were converted to tertiary institutions.
The second reform follows from the first, and this is to abolish both the primary and secondary school examinations.
This will make it easier to make education more learning focused, as opposed to examination focussed. But how will we tell whether teachers are doing their jobs well? On what basis will colleges and universities enroll students? Neither is a big challenge.
On teacher performance, there are many alternative assessment tools. One of the best known is the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) which tests the 15 year-olds maths, science and reading skills.
The test results report the percentage of students who have met the expected standard for the grade as opposed to individual scores.
As regards college and university admission, this would be based on entry exams for the programme of study one wants to enroll in. The US has its SAT, GRE and GMAT.
I see no reason why our universities cannot come together and develop entry exams tailored to the requirements of each academic programme.
The third reform is to liberate education from the tyranny of training. The accountancy profession offers what I think is a good model. It does not matter what one studies, or indeed whether one graduates from university at all, the CPA or ACCA qualification is what makes one an accountant.
It allows people to be educated in philosophy and mathematics, and still qualify as an accountant. Consequently, one does not hear of shortage of accountants, or industry complaining that universities are not training accountants properly.
The purpose of education is to empower individuals with critical and moral reasoning, not to condition wage slaves. Martin Luther King Jnr observed decades ago that education which stops at efficiency may prove to be the greatest menace to society.
A survey conducted by the Aga Khan University’s East African Institute found that close to half our youth believe corruption is profitable, and more than half would do anything to make money. A society whose youth believes in corruption and getting rich by whatever means is a society with a failed education system.
Dr David Ndii, an Economist is currently serving on the NASA Technical and Strategy Committee, where he leads the NASA policy team. [email protected] @DavidNdii