While 8-4-4 has been hailed for producing bright kids, some of who go on to win academic accolades in the global arena – it has also been blamed for producing ‘zombies’.
Years ago, I read with interest a newspaper contribution on the state of Kenya’s education sector by Mike Eldon, a Nairobi-based businessman and career counselor. His article drew wrath from readers who complained through the Letters To The Editor column that his was a point of view that lacked merit because he was no expert in academic matters.
Mike had castigated the 8-4-4 system for, among other things, subjecting students to inordinate levels of knowledge within disproportionately limited periods of time. The system did not propel students to areas in which they had scholarly strengths, he argued. In other words, there was too much to be grasped even in those subject areas where a student repeatedly demonstrated he/she was weak in.
I think Mike was right. The 8-4-4 system, in my view, conditions students to be “bright”. Bright in the sense that because of the extraordinary pressures imposed on students to pass, what is expedient for them to do is to cram and revise hard, rather than understand and challenge. In my view, when you cram, you scarcely interrogate the subject matter. Indeed, ‘cramming’ and ‘understanding’ are as different as the baobab tree is from a scrub.
Great innovations, ideas, etc. have been brought about by human beings interrogating, exploring, challenging, probing for answers to questions like why, how else, etc. When you interrogate the way you do things, you discover better ways of doing them and understand more. You therefore become smarter, authoritative in the subject matter, more creative.
Sadly, Kenya’s education system is so packed with academic content that there’s hardly time to ‘understand’. Neither is there sufficient time for the student to invest in creative stuff.
In fact, the 8-4-4 system has failed miserably in helping mould creativity in students. Many scholars agree that students going through the system have had little time to undertake extra-curricular activities (music, drama, group activities, sport, scouting, etc.) that are helpful in jolting their creative faculties.
This is because the system is, alongside other reasons, too demanding of our kids’ reading time at the expense of other less curricular but by no means less important areas of their lives.
That is why I am an ardent admirer of Rudolf Steiner, after whom a global network of schools he founded is named.
Rudolf Steiner, who died in 1925, believed that no one was born foolish. He believed you could fare poorly in a certain area but be brilliant in another. For that, he argued that there was intelligence in all of us. One only needed to find it (intelligence). For example, Beethoven may have been a struggling student of mathematics, but he was a brilliant composer and artist.
Rudolf started schools (Nairobi’s Rudolf Steiner school is within flag-waving sight of Nazarene University at Ongata Rongai) that initially exposed pupils to varying areas of learning including the less mainstream ones of music, art and craft, dance, etc. with a view to discovering areas in which the pupils had spark. The schools would then academically propel the pupils towards subject areas in which they demonstrated good mastery and interest.
For example, a kid that excelled in design and craft and was good at arithmetic betrayed potential of becoming a brilliant architect.
Some education systems of leading economies in the world are based on a model similar to Rudolf Steiner’s. France and Finland are good examples. In the latter country, for example, outdoor activities are stressed, even in the coldest weather; and homework is minimal to leave room for extra-curricular activities. The objective being to achieve developmental well-roundedness of the pupil or student.
Coming up with an educational framework that combines the Rudolf Steiner-type model with one that best complements our Vision 2030 aspirations is the challenge, in my view, that Kenya’s educational planners are faced with.
Overall, the current education system in Kenya would help mould a better Kenyan society if it was designed to bring out brilliance in all areas – mainstream and extra-curricular. The government should adopt a learning regime that not only encourages creativity but helps propel students to areas in which they demonstrate scholarly aptitude.
Unfortunately, there’s a lot of brilliance being churned out by the 8-4-4 system that is going to waste. The country could be teeming with talented individuals who have no faith in their abilities.
They have no faith because we have taught them that brilliance lies in how many ‘A’s they are able to garner across multiple subject areas, including those that they were naturally not well predisposed to.
As Albert Einstein once remarked: “Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid….”