Kenya’s Education System Is A Zombie Factory

I know my philosophy lecturer said I shouldn’t make blanket statements, but I’ll go ahead and do it anyway: Hollywood should consider shooting the next Resident Evil movie in Kenya. Seriously. This place is replete with intellectual zombies from Malaba to Mombasa, and the best part is that approximately 200,000 more will be pumped into circulation every year.

But you'll ask me, "Why should you bother, Huston? And are you not a product of the same system you call a zombie factory?"

But you’ll ask me, “Why should you bother, Huston? And are you not a product of the same system you call a zombie factory?”

To the latter, I’ll say that I think of myself an outlier.

As to the former, the fact that providence has placed me in the design field means that I can’t help but be bothered because zombies and creatives are diametrical opposites. Indeed I ought to be bothered, knowing that I’m in good company, for Einstein himself once said that “Imagination is more important than knowledge.”

I mean, look at the design industry in Kenya. Do you see anything to smile about?

We still have billboard ads using poorly cropped stock photos and intermixing immiscible typography. We still have clip art showing up in logos. Ever since that Faiba guy hit the TV screens I now have to skip half-baked animated ads every time I try to watch a Youtube video. On the web, we still have companies charging as little as KES 30,000 for web site “design”. We still have dozens of new mobile apps being released into the wild; apps that are neither needed nor cared about, if we’re to be completely honest. And the cherry on top of it all is that 90% of government web sites are either cheap or free templates that cost taxpayers millions. Yes, millions. Apiece.

I see nothing to smile about.

So what does our education system have to do with all this? The answer can be summed up in one word: exams.

In kindergarten, we’re made to clap for the kid who draws all the shapes correctly, and the one who wins the short race gets to lick glucose to his/her heart’s content.

In primary school the top three take home all manner of stationery, cutlery and crockery. Then they cycle to school for Saturday tuition with the new bike they got as a reward from their parents.

In high school, the top ten get to take a “walk of fame” around the school’s assembly grounds. All others assume an inferior posture in almost all of their interactions with these special ones who have the ability to remember definitions and derivation formulas verbatim. And since everyone wants to be significant in that warped reality, they all strive to outdo one another in cramming “what’s going to be examined”.

Then in the end, staying true to a tradition long established and observed by our predecessors, we make a huge bonfire with our books once we’re done with the last KCSE paper! Behold our blazing brilliance!

Receiving my prize from Mr. President

Receiving my prize from the Finance Minister, now Mr. President

When I was in high school, I really looked forward to university. Of course, part of the anticipation was due to all the mischievous stories I’d heard and that I wanted to witness with my own sinful eyes. But the better part of the anticipation was because I was eager to sit in lecture halls where the sharp blades of brilliant minds would clash in scintillating discussion, debate, deduction, and reasoning.

Boy was I was thoroughly disappointed!

I concede that there are a few lecturers trying to keep it real and make a difference, but it surprises me that they too take no offense when the most common question in class is usually, “What will you bring in the CAT?”

That mentality is — in my opinion — what’s crippling the job market in Kenya, especially in the creative and tech industry.

So long as it works. So long as the client is happy. So long as we’ve ticked every deliverable. So long as we’ve hit the deadline. So long as we’ve delivered the goods. So long as we’ve been paid.

We lack the all-important purpose, drive, zeal, diligence and conscience that Jobs illustrated by thinking of himself as a carpenter who would never be able to sleep peacefully knowing that he’d used a shoddy piece of wood on some furniture, even though the shoddy piece was on the wall-facing side.

So, having said all that, the question then must be, “What’s the solution?”

Honest answer? I don’t know.

I think I lack the wisdom and understanding to suggest how to turn an entire education system around. It would be presumptuous of me.

If I may go on a tangent though (after all, this is a blog, right?)…

Much has been said about the free laptop project that our new government is planning to implement. Some support it, most think it’s the height of nonsense. All I can say is that unless our mentality changes, the only thing laptops will do to the flawed system is enable kids to start plagiarizing Wikipedia in assignments at a much earlier age, and expose them to the cheap thrills of adult sites that they’d otherwise stumble upon in high school and university.

So yeah, I don’t have a silver bullet that will nail all the flaws of the entire education system. But maybe, just maybe, by sharing my thoughts, one more zombie will be snapped back to reality and join the cluster of anomalies.

  • Chris Wanjagi

    Hehe!
    I see nutin’ fi smile bout!

  • i think the education system is the same almost everywhere, its the mentality of the students when they are still in school and after leaving, that contributes more to this mess

    • Well, I’ve only been to a handful of countries, and even then, I haven’t observed their education systems. In this case I can only speak firmly with regards to what I know experientially.

      My point is that the system itself plays a central role in shaping the mentality of the students. The students are messed up because the system is flawed.

      • I agree with you about the system being flawed, but also i remember back in college, everybody used to say, “we only need our certificates, we’ll get experience when we start working”, that is the “mentality” that i am talking about.

        Earlier this year, i had a part-time teaching job at a certain college here (in Arusha), i was teaching web development and i decided that i wasn’t going to provide notes to the students (just teach them well), i was going to let them find their own material, this somehow worked for them, they understood the concepts very well.

        • Glad to hear you’re being proactive in changing things. Keep it up!

  • Victor Gatuna

    Hi brother,Its been a while and glad to see that we concur in thought despite the changing times, looks like we took a similar mentallity-shift trajectory since high school. I totally agree that their needs to be an entire system overhaul, which incorporates both the people and their culture as well as the structures and its systems. Education system foundations has to be redesigned and people going back to the call of true professionalism like in the days of Hippocrates where professionalism was not inspired by how much I can gain but how much I can impact the society. All the same I believe people don’t change systems but systems change systems, thus means there needs to be alternative systems that challenge what we currently have and people with a different spirit.
    Thanx brother!!

  • What are your chances during a zombie apocalypse?

  • WKUPVFHL

    Yes, true to your word, this system has been cycled and cycled over and over again. Many have come, been “educated”, got jobs, have had families, lived, then left us. What then shall we say… can change come? Can we believe in it, and do we know of it? Yes, we do. Many know that change is what we need, many have seen the impact of change, but who can stand up and do something, because we need not to just speak of these issues time and again, we need to come together and build this change that we so believe in. This change is bigger than us, and that is why no one person can do it all by themselves. It requires patience, humility, wisdom, and above all Love.

    Yes, we can build this change, because it’s time we do so. Don’t just believe in it, but be a part of it by doing something, no matter how small it may be, you can do it. Be beyond this system, be above the standards set, be it by thinking and/or choices, because this is the only way any one of us can impact this change into other people’s lives. Hold on to Love, Faith, and Hope. It’s possible. Just believe.

signed. martians.™