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.

Signed. Martians.