I could feel my heartbeat increasing each millisecond, I knew I was anxious but was I about to experience a panic attack? A week earlier I had read an article by MedicalNewsToday of how quickly severe anxiety could forge into a panic attack and a recommendation to speak to a doctor.
But no! talking to a doctor is going to the unnecessary extreme, after all, every year students had to fathom the same experience. So, I found the comfort in “tuko wengi” a Swahili phrase directly translated as ‘there are many of us’.
Though the phrase is mostly used by teenagers when they are about to break some rules, it almost perfectly acted to quiet my fears for a moment. Minutes later I received a phone call from my sister. Unsurprisingly I knew just about what she was about to say, as she had asked for my index number, and school code.
“guess what?” she said, “what?” I replied. Then she went on to explain how I had performed in my Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education, KCSE. I was not among the top tier in the country but at least I had performed above 75% of the total points. And lucky me, I had qualified to join some of the surmount universities in the country.
Minutes later calls from every end: some who wanted to offer their congratulation, others who had sent me a success card four months earlier, and couldn’t wait to know how I had performed. I quickly called my desk mate and chief competitor in all matters of life. “budah kametokea aje” I asked in Swahili slang how he had performed, “nikunoma msee, Matiangi si baba yetu”. He replied jokingly, implying that things were not all good and that the Cabinet Secretary for education was not our father.
He went on and explained his results. We later exchange texts of our performance. I was happy that he too had qualified for a position in the university, and gladder that I had performed better. The bottom line for the mixture of the euphoria and predicament was, though we thought we deserved better for our hard work in class, it was okay that we managed to join the university.
For Kenyans, debatable many of them who have had to sit down for a national exam, the above narration is not alien.
The saying that education is the key to success is well indoctrinated to the learner as early as elementary levels. It is not considered a mediocre statement when a kindergarten child is told to read hard so that when they grow up, they can buy their parent a car or a mansion in Lunda (a lavish residence in Nairobi’s environ) as they are seen off by their parent who has to go to work for 8 hours and come back in the evening to pick them.
But more emphatic the belief that education is the key to a brighter future, is seen in the epoch of the secondary days, typically 4 years. I still recall a conversation that I once had with a university student who often counseled me on what to do to ensure that I get a slot in government scholarship to the university.
He had said that “no! it is not true that education is everything. but I can’t afford to have that mindset in high school.” He further explained that if I am ever going to perform well in my KCSE I need to think as though my life was at a turning point to either misery or heaven, with a minimal chance of undoing the aftermath.
He later added a disclaimer that to think the same on-campus was stupid. And bingo! I knew all I needed to succeed. Such discourses are still common with high school students with an endeavor to join campus soon, as they marvel at their predecessors who they see as a dreamy version of success.
The tale of the Kenyan education system cannot be told without mentioning the historic year of 1985 that saw the introduction of the 8-4-4 system by the late president Daniel Arap Moi.
The new system of eight years of primary school, four years in high school and another four in university were highly embraced as it was not only seen as a replacement of the infamous 7-4-2-3 that consisted of seven years of primary education, four years in secondary, two in high school and three in university but also believed to be a bestowal with the ability to satisfy the aspiration of technology-loving Kenyans.
Though the 8-4-4 system was celebrated at its conception in 1985, it has in the 21st century quelled down to a debate with the antagonists of the system mainly arguing that the system still holds its roots to the colonial mindset that the colony only need to be taught compliance and control.
Mwalimu Wandia a renown academician, suggests that the Cambridge exams that were introduced by the colonial government to control what was taught and learned in school which consequently worked to curb and limit room for African revolutionary ideas and to put some constraint to their economic prowess, is still cherished by the current national examination that is administered once every year.
Though it is debatable if indeed the 8-4-4 system holds onto the same DNA, it goes without questions that exams mainly national exams give room to indoctrination by governments. An example of this was seen in an uproar some weeks earlier on social media, with Kenyans who felt frustrated by how the government chooses to tell the story of the struggle of independence and who ought to be celebrated.
The 8-4-4 system has been also criticized as being too much market-driven forgetting that the students will also be citizens, parents, et cetera.
The emphasis on national exams has been seen as a catalyst to the menace of enormous levels of examination cheating a scenario that the new education framework curriculum of the competency-based system (CBS) seeks to curb. It is composed of a 2-6-3-3-3 model and seeks to do away with the national exams.
The system which was tested starting may 2017, will offer 2 years of pre-primary, 6 of primary, 3 years of junior secondary 3 of senior secondary, and 3 years of higher education. As a participant of the 8-4-4, I can accuse it of being too academic.
Meditating through some of the rhetoric that I got from my radical advisor. The 8-4-4 system created a life-changing KCSE. It becomes the major determinant of not only whether one will continue with higher education or not, but also what career one is going to pursue.
Either a doctor or a nurse, a lawyer or a teacher, a chef or architect et cetera. To bring this into perspective, one can only pursue a career in medicine if they scored a B+(plus) in the overall grades while for one who is only hoping for a government sponsorship for them only a grade of A would qualify.
I dreamt of being a lawyer for the longest period of my life, but my English grades were not at per, with the government requirements for a scholarship. In other words, KCSE said that since am good at mathematics and not very good in English, I ought to be an Actuarial Scientist and not a lawyer. It no doubts that thousands can relate.
Since the cost of higher education is quite high in public universities and even higher in private campus, the best one can hope for is qualify for a government scholarship.
In the year 2003, the government introduced free primary education and later did the same for secondary schools in 2008, consequently leading to a dramatic increase of up to 92% in the number of students who transition from primary school to secondary schools as per the 2019 statistics.
The Government went further to offer a 75% scholarship for students who qualify to join the university for an undergraduate degree (having a grade of C+ and above in the KCSE) and 50% for students who qualify for a diploma (with a grade C).
With one year remaining for me to finally closed the doors of the 8-4-4. It makes a lot of sense to me why someone would say that thinking that your degree certificate is all you need to be successful is stupid. Kenya has a population of about 50 million and each year it rolls out approximately 50,000 graduates making the market for absorption very competitive.
According to an article by the Kenyan Standard Newspaper, the number of employed degree holders dropped by 66% from the year 2011-2017, while Master’s students employed in the same period increased by 69% up to 79%. An indication of what the employers are interested in.
The Kenyan government offers sponsorship up to the undergraduate level, which is rather unfortunate as most Kenyans cannot afford to pay for their master’s degree. The World Economic Forum ranked Kenya as the 7th in Africa and 95th globally in having the best education system based on skill development.
On levels of skills of the workforce and the quantity and quality of education. Kenya also boasted an 81.54% literacy rate in 2018 according to the United Nations. Statistics which with no doubt will grow. It also has a 10% unemployment which is quite astonishing as since of this 80 % are unemployed are below the age of 35 years.
Creating an emphasis on the imminent of a young, educated, and unemployed Kenyan society. So it’s factual that its dubious to think that all one needs is a degree certificate.
My experience as a student in Kenya has taught me that it is wise to hope for the best and prepare for the worse. With ambitions of becoming a data scientist and an author I know I still got a long way to go. Malcolm X once observed,
“Education is the passport to the future, for tomorrow belongs to those who prepare today.” So as a student I choose to put my best foot in education. And as John Adams stated “There are two educations. One should teach us how to make a living and the other how to live.” I Am taking my chances in both.