Your Child Is Stupid, For Our School

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Last week, I interacted with a young bespectacled Kenyan girl – she is attending school in my neighbourhood, a proud P.7 candidate. Her testimony, was of being able to score above 95% in a couple of exams and 92% and 94% in the other 2 subjects. 

She was happy particularly because she felt that this set of mock exams, taken from another school, was harder than the set of exams of her own school. She went on to say, she would like God to give her wisdom to get the other 2 subjects above 95% because her teacher mentioned to her its the new passmark for getting a distinction. 

My jaw could not drop lower. She must be 13 or thereabout.

She went to narrate how her school takes pupils that do not score high grades to other schools for PLE. Apparently, Kampala based schools would like to maintain the impression of a perfect scores, so they offload pupils who are scoring 3rd and 4th grade marks to lower schools where they “fit” in the demographics. For these schools, these students will taint the scorecard, and cause their annual classification to dip when the UNEB comes reading the top 5 schools in each district. 

How and when did we get to the deep echelons of such selfishness? And why is the future generation of this country being made to feel that they are inadequate just because they will skew the scores?

Parents, you need to be wary of a school that has no children in 3rd and 4th grade listed on their P7 lists for the last 10 years, because as we all know, academic brilliance is a normal binomial distribution – there will be quartiles, on either extremes. 

I went to Kibuli Secondary School and i know that even the creme de la creme of post primary institutions, inspite of their very best selection efforts, still land, atleast in good time, students who cannot remain as good as their 4, 5 or 6 aggregates scored at PLE. 

What are we doing to our children? All these teachers who are clamouring for more, for themselves, when silently they are depriving our children of the right to fail – because as we know, and much later in life, failure is a much celebrated ingredient of success. Why do we make our children feel bad because they did not score 95%? 

Parents, why do you accept to live under the pressure to pay extra fees to one teacher, so your child can miss their rightful term holidays and weekends? Is it really true that this one teacher will make your child pass? And when that teacher gets hit by a boda boda? Then what, you will move on to pay the next teacher who promises your child a 4? 

Why would you expect this teacher to be doubly motivated to help a handful of children pass just because they pay an extra 100,000/= , and get to miss out on their weekends and holidays? If this is what the teacher needs, why don’t we work through the PTA (Parents’ and Teachers’ Association) to motivate all the teachers in the same school so that other children who cannot afford this can also benefit from such a teacher? After all, isn’t sharing caring?

I cry for the children who are moved from one stream to another, and one school to another, and eventually get knocked out of a school because their grades are considered not good enough by the very administration whose job is to increase their confidence and ability to tackle academic and life challenges. For these children, failure will always be a mark on their faces, painted by the system we pay.

I am sick to my stomach that we let such culture take root in our feeble education system. 

I am ashamed for the parents who walk out of the headteachers’ offices convinced that their children are not good enough to sit their final exams at a school they have patronised for the better part of 6 years. 

I am angry at the idea that you drive back home and find the words to package that hope shattering nonsense, and unwittingly become the postman for your child’s new found future – a future that says they are not good enough; at least not good enough to sit in the school they have sacrificed early morning for all their lives. 

This same school, when the results are out, will pay a premium fee to the press, for an advert that says they had 90% first grades, and the other 10% were second grades. They had no 3rd and 4th grades. Oh how conveniently magical!

UACE Results – Dont Write me Off!

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The moments are ecstatic,  and there will be all sorts of prizes, from goats, to chicken to i-pads and am sure St. Lawrence will throw in a car. Every year, 3 times a year, we celebrate our aces, when the National Examination results are released by UNEB. Every year, its the same cry, what exactly do these results imply?

A little under 13years ago,  yours truly was covered in The Daily Monitor, a Christian boy had beaten the odds at a moslem school, and excelled, 10 in 8. The odds were many, for anyone who has gone through Kibuli SS. The drama that ensued was not just celebratory, what was I going to study at A-Level? My dear late mom was convinced i should go for medicine, my headmaster agreed. Me? Computer Science. Its funny how at O’ level you hear youngsters talk of these big career paths, yet the subjects they will sit one month away for the next 18-20 months are so detached from reality. Anyway, to swallow my won words, do not underestimate them – i keep telling people, as early as S.2, i knew i wanted to work with computers.

So the battle begins, PCBM or PCM or PEM? I wanted PEM, the world wanted me to study PCBM – and all this was based on my o’level marks. The irony is that my marks represented more Distinctions in Arts subjects (Ain’t they that easy – English, History, Geography, Maths, CRE, i even studied Political Education) and minor distictions and credits in sciences (Physics, Biology and Chemistry). So on the basis of my marks alone, there was nothing i should have been doing near PCBM and Economics.

As it happened, I had my first term in the PEM Class and my second in the PCBM Class, and 12 months later, i failed. That is, according to the standard that was expected of me, that i had so ably displayed. At Kibuli SS, there was (i hope still is) a cardinal rule – passing A’ level was about getting Government Sponsorship to your first (or second) choice course at the University. Anything short of that was a fail. According to this rule, i did not fail. But there was one more rule – it was simple, it was mine – to study computer science! In 2006, i graduated with a BSc in Computer Science.

My experience taught me a thing or 2 – first that you never ever write off someone based on their marks, the reverse of course is that you should not let the high scores get to your head, as so regularly said, pride comes before a fall. But secondly, and most importantly, is that you (educators and parents) should craft an environment that nurtures desire and talent and dreams at an early stage, and not try to funnel this generation’s high fliers into courses (and indeed careers) based on their marks.

A Side Note

The Monitor  (page 2) today carries a picture of one, Micheal Mubiru who scored 1AAA in PCB/M. Micheal, Congratulations! BUT what are you doing in a class? Is this  in St. Mary’s Kitende? Are you a qualified Teacher? Do you have a Certificate in Education? Or anything close? Aint you supposed to be in Vacation? True, you are probably very much needed in that position, but what happened to the systems? Were you formally recruited? Do you have an appointment letter? Which grade are you? Teaching Assistant? Look am not against you, am against the blatant misuse of your brains and resource, based on a flimsy excuse that you would have sat at home anyway, and so this is a good way to spend your time – doing good!

Guess what, you are cheap labor. That’s what you are to your employer. Am willing to bet your boss has not given you a proper appointment letter. You know why? Because you will get onto the payroll, and there will be NSSF and PAYE to pay. I doubt these are in place, against your name.

Of course i could be wrong… as a friend suggested, you could be paying your student loan, as a Lab Assistant (this school would need a lab, as i still don’t think that makes you a qualified Teacher, let alone Teaching Assistant). But what the heck, do we even have qualifications for these positions?

I wish the Government had a plan where bright students like you can get internship jobs in Schools where you are needed the most, by filling out your vacation with a Certificate in Education, or something, that not only makes you a great personal resource (read: brain matter), but also a great resource to your area of influence (your former school) by instilling pedagogy and other such skills that make you into a great teacher. People like you often get victimized – that great brains don’t always make great teachers – i disagree totally.

You see Micheal, people who were not like you , who failed O’ level are the ones going to become Kindergarten Teachers, they are going to handle the most critical years of the children you will give birth to. And the ones who are on the opposite end of your A’s, they are (some of them) going to become primary and secondary school teachers. Some of your teachers, who guided you to your A’s were a product of such a cruel system. People like your employer have been long in this system, enough to know what to change, and yet the system has stayed the same.

And now we celebrate the likes of you – and sadly, the story we have been told before, makes it feel strange to have you in a Class. Far from it, I would prefer more of you in the classrooms across this country, after all, a system that nurtures you would have put you up in an Education course, on the promise of a job, so you might not even go to University for a conventional degree (medicine, pharmacy, engineering – and the one you might have put as your 1st choice), but would be helped and in 3yrs, you would be doing what you love (teaching), in the subjects yo knowledgeable (AAAA in PCBM) with the right enabling skills (an appropriate course in Education).

Right now, am concerned, that you are a great brain, in a terrible system, and a worse labor machinery, that is out to exploit you! Again, congratulations on your excellent results.

Are we so corrupt, even as Parents?

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So this morning i went over to Lohana Academy to try and get Gabriella into school for next year. It lasted 3 minutes, and the admission letter will be ready on Friday! Nothing like sign here, sign there, village, et al.

Co-incidentally, the conversation at work over lunch was about a frustration of the fees in schools, which have to be supplemented by those weekend classes, or else your child “will find it hard in the exams.” This colleagues goes on to say how this is the new way for teachers “to survive.” I think its the ONLY way, for over 10 years ago, i went through the same. I hated it, because i was sure of my grades, and i thought it was unnecessary for my mom to squeeze our meager resources further.

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