Careers Education

Semester on a Floating Campus

Sitting for lectures can be a boring task. It is even worse if all the lecturer does is to lecture: no interaction, no group work, no discussions, no questions, no practical examples, no demonstration, the content is just as dry as the lecturer. You sit on the chair and the lecturer stands on the podium for a whole two or three hours talking as you yawn, toss, and torpidly doze off. And the cycle continues for a whole semester.

But imagine of a semester in the sea. Yes, instead of learning in the ordinary classrooms while boarding in the shared unkempt hostel rooms, you spend a whole semester with your lecturers and hundreds of other students in a ship taking your classes in the ocean as you visit countries in different continents. As a participant you get a global comparative experience as the ship crosses through various cultures around the world. If it sounds unrealistic to you then you have not heard about Semester at Sea program.

But I also did not know about this kind of a “floating campus” until one of my students, Levix Aloo, came to my office in November 2018 and said, “in the coming Semester, January-April 2019, I won’t attend classes here at the university because I will be travelling to several countries while having my classes there.” I got shocked as he went on to explain that he would be spending a whole three and half months in the seas, moving from one continent to another.

Born and raised up by his grandmother in Kibera slums, Levix is just an ordinary young man but with extraordinary determination. He is so determined that he applied to join Semester at Sea, very much aware that it costs millions of Kenyan Shillings which he did not have. But that is Levix for you. He says that he loves multicultural exposure and he would do anything to get out of Kibera and learn from the rest of the world. He explains that it is for that reason he chose to do Bachelor of Education at Tangaza University College where there are students from more than 70 nationalities. He wanted a place he would meet people from other parts of the world.

Semester at Sea, affiliated to Colorado States University, is not your next door campus. Your application will not easily be accepted if your application does not include a high quality paper convincingly showing exactly how attending the semester will benefit you.

When he got the letter of acceptance, Levix was excited but at the same time he was sad about his inability to afford tuition as well as visa processing and traveling expenses. Levix was educated by people of goodwill right from primary school all the way to the university. With his letter of acceptance, he applied for Desmond Tutu’s Scholarship and was required to write a philosophy paper on Ubuntu. “I took time to write the paper in which I integrated my life story because I realized that Ubuntu truly defined my life.” This scholarship which is meant to benefit only one African applicant per year is a very competitive one. So he did not have so much hope.

But surprisingly, he got it! And he was excited about it. Now the only thing that remained was applying for visas for all the countries that he would be visiting. The Scholarship required each candidate to have visas for at least 12 countries with some countries’ visas being compulsory. “You can imagine the hustle of processing 12 visas at a go, while still attending my classes”, he says. Nevertheless, he never lost hope despite being denied visa by several countries.

On 4th January 2019 he landed in San Francisco before traveling to San Diego where he boarded the ship accompanied by 580 other voyagers coming from different parts of the world mainly America, Europe, and Asia. He was one of the only two Africans in the group. After the ship ceremony in the Pacific Ocean, the ship embarked as the group started off on a journey to Mexico, and then Japan, China, Hong Kong, Myanmar, Vietnam, India, Mauritius, South Africa, Ghana, Morocco, and finally Netherlands.

Being a student of Geography and Kiswahili, Levix selected four Geography courses from more than 70 other courses that were on offer in the floating campus. Some of the learning activities used to deliver course content during the voyage included field work, group discussions, class presentations, excursions, simple research, essay writing, reflections, and site seeing.

In the process of learning, Levix went exploring 13 countries and 15 cities in America, Asia, Africa, and Europe. And during those 106 days Levix says that he was most impressed by the diverse cultural exposure. “The integrity, discipline, and humility of the Japanese was remarkable. The forgiving temperament and the hardworking spirit of the Vietnamese and the Chinese was amazing,” says Levix. He also says that technology and infrastructure of the developed countries shocked him. The many things and places that he had been reading about in his Geography classes back in Nairobi now became real as he paid visits to places and saw things for himself.

Apart from learning from the places and the people in various destinations visited, Levix says that he learnt a lot from his fellow voyagers most of who he describes as amiable, kind, entertaining, and exploring. “I am probably the only one among the group coming from a slum background and even after sharing my stories with my fellow travelers, they never judged me although many got shocked,” he says. Disregarding his background, Levix was elected as the group spokesperson in the ship.

When I asked him what he learnt from the 126th voyage of Semester at Sea, the 26 year-old student who before joining the university worked as a casual laborer in construction sites quickly quips, “Never judge people based on their background or their skin color because your perception about them is likely to be wrong.”


Why High School Education Is Still Not Affordable to Many Kenyan Children

Schools opened in January for the first academic term. And form ones reported almost together with the rest of students in adherence to the new practice which aims to achieve an early and total transition to form one.

But what many people may not know is that there are still many form one candidates who are yet to report to school while others have continued to report three months late. The main reason for this is that many parents still find it difficult to afford school fees for their children.

There are many candidates who were called to schools whose fees their parents could not afford. And since they took time searching for affordable institutions, they delayed reporting to form one. There are others who are still waiting to fulfill initial financial obligations set by schools so they can join form one.

One would expect parents to have an easy time taking their children through basic education given the much acclaimed free primary and secondary education.

However, that is not the case. Schools have generally remained expensive. There is no school that lacks some form of extra fees may it be day or boarding, a fact that has caused quality education in Kenya to largely remain affordable only to the rich. Despite being free, many students still cannot join high school simply because it is expensive.

A new student reporting to a day high school will require not less than Ksh 15,000 as one is supposed to buy several items in order to be admitted. Such items may include several pairs of new school uniform, Bible, atlas, dictionary, mathematical set, and study desk among others.

And since many government schools don’t have enough teachers, parents are also required to pay the teachers who are locally employed by the school Board of Management (BoM).

This is not to mention that parents have also to pay for the student meals among other utility bills. All these charges continue to make it impossible for the education provided in public day schools to be called free.

The maximum fees payable in boarding high schools is Ksh 53,000 after a Government subsidy. But many schools are creating areas in which they can make more money as the financial burden continues to weigh the parents down.

Most of the schools demand that learners buy school uniform in the school or at outlets owned by either the school administrators or their cronies. Other schools charge the parents for uniform exorbitantly and then award uniform tenders to their own businesses. The charges for school uniform alone can cost as much as ksh.25000. Don’t forget many high schools demand that a student buys another set of new school uniform when joining form 3.

And as if that is not enough, many schools ask parents to pay motivation fees which is meant to award good performing teachers which is not a bad idea anyway. It’s this money also that is often spent in team building activities for school teaching and non-teaching staff, and some times the school prefects.

While some of these costs are genuine, some others are cleverly crafted to benefit school administrators whose interest is to make money from the parents.

If the government does not take action on schools making extra demands to parents, the idea of making primary and high school education free will remain an elusive goal.


The Situation of Kenya’s Education System

Many issues that education stakeholders thought were weighing down the quality of education over the years may soon be behind us. These issues include the ever-disturbing curriculum whose design and implementation was largely criticized for being too costly, overloaded, and for failing to provide learners with practical skills and adequate competences relevant to today’s dynamic local and global job market.

Away with malpractices
Major education stakeholders had reached a point of compromise and the only thing that seemed to matter to many parents, students, and teachers was good grades in final examinations. It did not matter to many teachers and parents whether a grade ‘A’ student had life-skills or not; many people did not care about the morals and values held by this ‘A’ student. And the question of whether grade ‘A’ was attained genuinely through hard work or shortcuts remained unasked yet exam buying, exam cheating, and skewed moderation practices were the order of the day in which some Kenya National Examination Council (KNEC) officials, school principals, teachers, exam supervisors, students, security officials, and parents took part. No doubt, we had gone too far down the road of destroying the future of the young generation.

The issue of examination malpractices may have, partly, found a solution in the recent changes of examination processes instituted by the former Education Cabinet Secretary, Dr. Fred Matiang’i. Although the changes have left many people grudgingly uncomfortable, they may be the kind of changes we needed after all. The cartels in KNEC that were said to be behind examination misconducts have substantially been done away with, thus leaving Kenyans more trustful about the examination procedures. However, since the changes in the examination processes were adopted, there have been complains about the mass failures in national examinations and there have been grumbles about huge number of candidates failing to qualify for university education, a problem whose best solution, in my view, is the newly launched Competency Based Curriculum (CBC), launched in January 2018.

New vision and curriculum

It is hoped that with the Competency Based Curriculum, no learner will again be branded a failure as we shift from summative assessment to formative assessment criteria. The assessment will also be more holistic focusing on the whole individual rather than on the cognitive aspect alone.

Technically, the CBC should be able to produce creative citizens with skills to solve their problems; it will equip learners with applicable skills, relevant knowledge and wide range of competencies to become innovators, entrepreneurs, agents of change, and ultimately become global citizens in the 21st century. Simply, the curriculum aims at developing the diverse potentials of learners so that they no longer become consumers of knowledge but rather creators of knowledge.

Unlike in the curriculum that is currently being phased out, a learner who has gone through Competency Based Curriculum should be able “to do”, “to be” and “to think”. This means that it will mold learners into productively active citizens who are able to think critically, act innovatively and live harmoniously with others. This would, consequently, fast track the development of an individual and of the country. It is a curriculum that is likely to help in changing the general culture of the citizens as it puts emphasis on character formation. In a fresh way, it places emphasis on ethical, moral, patriotic, peaceable and responsible citizenry.

The new 2-6-6-3 education system aligns itself with the 2010 constitution and vision 2030. According to the Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) Policy of 2017, the new curriculum is a response to the call for countries to promote “sustainable development and quality education by implementing the Rio Conventions, UNESCO Global Action Programme (GAP) and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.” It is designed to propel sustainable development in adherence to other universal sustainable development frameworks. As such, it responds to issues relating to climate change, sustainable environment, global citizenship, human rights, health and lifestyle, cultural diversity, peace and security, HIV & AIDS, biodiversity, gender, inclusion, and disaster risks.

The CBC, emerged out of long consultative processes involving virtually all education stakeholders. The steers of the process always made calls to the public at various stages of its development for citizens to give their input. Therefore, being a product of highly participatory process there is no doubt the curriculum may easily be embraced by Kenyans.

Resources Needed

However, the effective implementation of this system of education will be determined by the availability and quality of resources. This being the takeoff moment of our plane, the current government and successive governments must give priority lest our plane may crash even before it is up and stably flying.

All teachers will need to be trained in line with the new curriculum and will require more tools to implement the curriculum whose content should majorly be delivered practically rather that orally. That the government should employ more teachers to cover the already existing deficit of more than 80,000 teachers is imperative.

Infrastructure is likely to remain the greatest challenge to the CBC. Although the government has made significant effort in championing the laptop project and in supplying electricity to schools all over the country, most of the schools lack essential learning facilities such as modern classrooms, sports facilities, science laboratories, furniture, and water. In some parts of Kenya, we still have learners studying under trees sitting on rocks! It is observed that even in schools where facilities are available, they are often dilapidated. Besides having poor infrastructure, schools in Northern Kenya and around Mount Elgon are adversely affected by insecurity an issue that must also be resolved urgently. Mass withdrawal of non-local teachers from North Kenya due to insecurity continues to deny children from the region their right to education.

Shift in thinking

According to the CBC senior school learners will be required to follow a particular pathway (area of specialization) based on their talents, skills, personality, and individual passion. The three pathways are arts and sports; social sciences; and Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM). These specializations have a huge implication on the costs. For instance, for a senior school to effectively take care of arts and sports science pathway, it must have adequate art and sporting facilities. Amongst other things, such a school must have multiple playing fields, swimming pools, theatre halls, music rooms, recording studios, as well as drawing, painting, ceramics, sculpture, and photography rooms fully equipped with necessary materials. This is not to mention that the school must have well-trained teachers in sports and arts. If it is a 21st century curriculum, its implementation should be supported with 21st century kind of facilities.

It is worth noting that degree courses will run for three years and not four years, meaning that all universities will need to start preparing for comprehensive overhaul of their programs. Fundamentally, all education stakeholders will have to readjust in one way or the other because the changes in the curriculum will affect nearly all sectors. It means that we all need to shift our thinking and our priorities to education sector. Focusing on the youth now is necessary because at no other time have the youth needed our attention than now. We all need to appreciate the great opportunity the youth have to revolutionize development in Africa through progressive quality education.

The deeply rooted challenges affecting the youth today are hoped to be curbed substantially. By the time CBC hits a full cycle some perennial challenges such as unemployment, alcoholism, drug abuse, early marriages, irresponsible sex, drug trafficking, environmental degradation, female genital mutilation, tribalism, corruption, poverty, hooliganism, and outlawed gangs should have been reduced significantly.

Although, the new curriculum should not be seen as a cure-it-all medicine for a myriad of troubles that ail our society, its positive results should clearly be visible because any education system must do what it is meant to do to an individual and to the society – namely, to transform.

This article was first published in New People (May-June 2018)


Cooperative University Student Dead in Police Cells Under Mysterious Circumstances 

Cooperative University Students went on rampage this Friday to demonstrate after their fellow student died at Hardy police station in Karen on Thursday. 

The circumstances under which the fourth year Bachelor of Commerce student died remain mysterious. 

According to a memo from the Vice Chancellor, Prof. Kamau, dated 17th March 2017, the police were still investigating the death of the student which had occured on the same day he had been arrested. The body of the deceased had since been moved to City mortuary.

The police, allegedly, say that the student commited suicide in the cells, even as the students community went on rampage seeking for explanation for the death that occurred under the police watch.

 The police say that Mr Munguti had been arrested with Cannabis but his colleagues refute that he was peddling cannabis and insist that he had been murdered. It is allegedly  said that his arrest and eventual death came after a quarrel with his landlord. 

The university leadership asked the learners to be calm and give the police time to investigate the matter but that did not stop the students from going on rampage to express their anger. They destructively closed Langata South Road in Karen for the better part of the day on Friday.
Last year around the same month, 3 students from the same university tragically died and 30 others got injured during  student campaigns to elect new officials. 


Crisis in Public Universities as Staff Plan to Strike

Crisis is looming in the education sector as  ​university unions have called for a strike starting Monday 9, January.

This comes after talks between the unions representing lecturers and non-teaching staff collapsed on Friday. 

The talks were aimed at persuading the government to adopt the 2013-2017 salary increase proposed CBA whose expiry date would be in five months’ time.

The Kenya University Staff Union (KUSU) Secretary-General Charles Mukhwaya cautioned continuing students not to report back to University for the new Semester saying that even new admissions were likely to be interrupted.
“We caution all continuing students not to report to universities and parents to rethink admission plans,” he said.

Learning in public universities across the country is likely to be interrupted  even as KUSU secretary general Charles Mukhawaya asked Education CS Fred Matiang’i to intervene and avert the crisis.

Kudhehia secretary general Albert Njeru said the unions and government failed to agree to suspend the strike.

He accused the Inter-Public University Councils Consultative Forum (IPUCCF) for failing to offer an alternative proposal for their 2013-2017 CBA and vowed to lobby union members to go on strike on Monday.

“We are very disappointed in IPUCCF for doing nothing about the proposal we gave them in December 2012 for the 2013-2017 agreement.

“As union leaders we can affirm that we have run out of patience. This government has refused to raise our salaries since 2010 and as much as we are committed to finding a lasting solution, they have frustrated our efforts,” Njeru added.

The Uasu Secretary General, Constantine Wasonga, also accused the IPUCCF chairman Prof Ratemo Michieka of a continued disregard of the CBA by engaging unions in what he called public relations gimmicks.

Wasonga claimed that the government is only buying time waiting their proposed CBA to expire in five months’ time.

This call for strike takes place at time when Dr Fred Matiang’i begins an audit of all universities in bid to bring positive reforms in the University education in Kenya.

Education University Education in Kenya

New Year Test for Matiang’i

After successfully delivering excellent results in the Ministry of Education, the education Cabinet Secretary, Dr. Fred Matiang’i is expected to take up even tougher tasks in 2017. He has already announced that he would be focusing into the Institutions of Higher Learning with the intention of reforming the sector. His no-nonsense attitude is, probably, what universities need and, hopefully, all will finally be well.

A recent report by Inter-University Council for East Africa (IUCEA), questioned the graduates’ level of preparedness for the job market as 51% of Kenyan graduates were believed to be unfit. Although, according to the report, Kenya seems to be doing better than its other Eastern Africa partners, it is not wellworrying when more than half of a country’s graduates are deemed unsuitable for a job which they thought they were prepared to take.

There are, of course, a myriad of reasons why more than half of a learned lot would not qualify to work in the areas in which they have been trained.

Firstly, university education in Kenya is faced with shortage of lecturers as universities heavily rely on part-time lecturers. It is estimated that in public universities the lecturer to student ratio is 1:500 signifying a grossly terrible situation. The recommended ratio by United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural agency (UNESCO) is 1:45. Recently, Dr. Matiang’i has been emphatic against part-time lecturing. The need for enough qualified well paid full time lecturers in public universities is obvious. But how to arrive at that will not be an easy test for Dr. Matiang’i.

Even as lecturers plan to go on strike early 2017, alleging unfulfilled salary increment promise, eyes will be on the CS to see how he handles the intricate matter.

Most of the public and private Universities in Kenya have satellite campuses in several parts of the country. The quality of education offered in these satellite campuses is another test for Dr. Matiang’i to take. In the recent past, satellite campuses belonging to established universities, have been closed, poor learning conditions being cited as the major reason for the closure. There have also been instances of universities enrolling students in unapproved courses.

Commercialization of the education sector is probably the toughest test for Dr. Matiang’i to reckon. There are universities and colleges that are known to have “no-dead-line intakes” meaning students can join an institution any time of the semester.

Other issues include corruptible systems that sometimes see unqualified candidates enroll for courses; candidates buying their certificates and graduating even without attending a class; university calendars that run shorter than required; among many others.

These issues that have continued to weigh down the sector since 1990’s no doubt have found the right man – Dr. Matiang’i, the leader who seem to be passing every test that other leaders have terribly failed.

Education Exam Results KCSE 2016

Many surprises as Matiang’i releases KCSE 2016 results

When the Education Science and Technology Cabinet Secretary, Dr. Fred Matiang’i, released KCPE 2016 results in early December, everyone icluding the media was caught in surprise. He broke from the tradition of releasing KCPE results at the end of December.

To the disbelief and surprise of many Kenyans, Dr. Matiang’i announced the 2016 KCSE results on a day when KCPE would traditionally be announced.

And the most surprising news probably was the number of A’s which went down to only 141 from over 2000 in 2015. There were only 4645 A- in 2016 and only 10,975 got B+. Dr. Matiang’i observed that a particular school got 212 A’s in 2015 but in 2016 it managed only 2 A’s. Only 88,928 candidates got between A and C+ meaning that unlike the past years, this year anyone with c+ and above is assured of Admission into the university.

The top list was dominated by girls as only 4 boys managed to get into the list of the 20 best candidates nationally, yet another surprise.

Alliance Girls and Kenya High received praise from the CS for consistency and honesty. He observed that unlike many other schools the two schools posted results consistent to their previous performances.

It was incredibly surprising that no single case of cheating was reported and thus not even one result was cancelled unlike the previous year when results of more than 5000 were cancelled.

The move by the CS to expedite the marking process and the announcement of results will help candidates to join their next level early. In the past years, form ones would join high school so late in the academic term and learn for less than a month yet their parents paid full tuition.

It is clear, with Matiang’i, it will no longer be business as usual even as the new system of education awaits to be launched and piloted in 2017.

Education School Unrest

Do Away with Boarding Schools

Property worth close to a billion shillings is already up in flames. Learning in about 120 schools in Kenya has been paralised. The chaotic burning wave keeps sweeping across the country. Children have become unruly. The parents are surprised. The Ministry of Education proves to have run out of ideas. Teachers are in a confused state. The society is watching and talking. Stakeholders are blaming each other. But each morning we wake up to more and more fires. Hell, one would imagine school dorms have become!

In such a crisis, it is unfortunate that no practical action has so far been taken to avert schools from more burnings. It is clear the situation calls for an urgent action and that action should not be more policies from the Ministry. Actually, the Ministry could be worsening the situation by creating and issuing too many directives which could be (mis)interpreted by children as ‘unfair’ to them.

While the concrete reasons for the burning of high school property by students have not been established, we need to ask why they mostly burn dormitories. The message being sent by these youths is very clear: they don’t want to be in school. Seemingly, the only way to ensure they are sent home is by making sure their dorms are burnt down. This term is a long one and learners are definitely tired. The extension of an already long term by the CS could have fueled the fires that were already happening even before the issuance of the directive.

I have heard some people arguing in the media that the fires are caused by the incompetence of school principals. The question then is, how come this incompetence is being manifested in the second term and not first term or third term? How come it’s only boarding schools that are burning their properties? Is it that day school principals are better trained than boarding school principals? Anyone rising to a position of a principal in a Kenyan boarding school has not only sufficient training but also experience as a curriculum implementer and administrator. I do not mean that principals do not need more fresher trainings. But blaming the current crisis on school headteachers has no basis at all.

Why is it that only boarding schools keep going on strike? Probably boarding schools are overrated. And probably it is the high time we did away with them. What’s the importance of children spending in a dormitory in the modern society? When children persistently burn school boarding facilities it means they do not want to board in school. Simple logic.

Should the government not ensure that there are day schools in every neighbourhood so that each child can attend school daily while staying with their parents? Boarding schools today only serve two puporses. One, they serve as spaces for drilling learners day and night so that they can pass the exam. And two, they allow parents time to be away from their children so that parents have less responsibility over their own children. If there is any other genuine reason for having boarding schools today please let me know because anything else learners do while in a boarding school they can do while in a day school. Simply, Kenyan children should have equal right to education in equally improved learning environment. And the easiest way to bring equality while still resolving many problems that we are currently in is by transforming all schools into day schools. This is besides the curriculum overhaul whose process is ongoing.

It seems education is no longer enjoyable in Kenyan schools. Their is so much curriculum content, high and often unrealistc expectations, too much focus on summative examinations, and the value of one’s life is dependent on grades attained at KCSE. All these factors are weighing down the young learners. Lethargy is real while parents are far from school and the teachers are obsessed with “making A grades” out of the children. There is definitely so little to enjoy in a boarding school.

Motivation speakers, career advisors, and lifeskill trainers are banned from assisting teachers in bringing fresh breath in boarding schools. As such the learners get tired of being in the school with the same teachers and start to long for outings, home visits, and entertainments. And any mob could just do anything just to achieve their goal irrespective of pettiness of the goal.

In the meanwhile the most honorable thing to do is just to close all schools. Let the learners rest as they tell us exactly what the problem is. Let them narrate to parents all their encounters, wishes and plans. The conversation should begin now. No one has listened to them yet, or so I think. And the conversation cannot happen until the tension is calmed. Teachers need to engage between themselves and parents. And the government needs to create a calm environment for all these conversations to take place. How? By closing all the schools immediately.


Is Sex Education to School Children Necessary?


When the idea of offering sex education to school going children was first proposed in Kenya, opinion was sharply divided indicating how sensitively delicate the matter is. While some people thought that sex education would help in reducing cases of teenage pregnancies and STIs among the youth, others argued that sex education would unnecessarily expose the little ones to sex matters and probably provoke their urge to engage in sex at early age.

Well, the truth remains that many teenagers already engage in sex. And many of them, at least according to researches done in the recent past, continue to get infected with HIV and other STIs. Many girls continue to drop out of school due to early pregnancies even as rape cases among the teenagers remain a stern reality. And sex parties involving teenagers such as the infamous “Project X” and other clandestine sex parties are clear indications of the dwindling moral repute of the society.

While it is agreeable that the society needs to act upon these challenges, the question is whether sex education in public primary and secondary schools would offer the best solution.

We are not the first country to grapple with the issue of sex education. The United States of America could probably offer the best example of a society that has tried sex education in schools.

Interestingly, sex education programme  has never been fully welcome in all USA public schools as opposed to many people’s expectations. In fact, only 22 states and the district of Columbia have allowed the teaching of sex education in public schools. And even while that is so, the curriculum of the program varies from one state to another. In most of the schools, children only get enrolled in sex education classes with the consent of their parents and a parent has the right to withdraw their child  from the class any time they wish. So it is not a same-size-for-all kind of program.

Back to Kenya, what do we really want? Or what don’t we want to be taught to our children? Which form of sex education do we prefer between abstinence-only-until-marriage and comprehensive sex education? If you have been saying “no” to sex education which program are you opposed to? And if you are pro sex education, which form have you been saying yes to? Or would you prefer an integration of the two?

The major problem which the proponents of sex education should deal with is the title “Sex Education”. It does sound to many people as if it is purely about teaching children sex! The word ‘sex’ in itself is still a taboo to many cultures of the world. It may be easy to say it in English but try to say it publicly in your mother tongue and you will know why many parents will quickly object to the teaching of anything related to it. We must first start by dealing with the title of the program.

Why call it “Sex Education” instead of “Life Skills Education”? I know Life Skills Education has previously been proposed as a lesson to be taught once a week in schools in Kenya. But the truth is that hardly any school teaches “Life Skills”. Many schools do not even have it on their teaching timetable. And those who have it, teach other subjects during that time. Don’t  you all know the common Kenyan unsaid saying which goes, “if it’s not examinable, don’t bother teaching it!”

The curriculum for Life Skills Education should be changed to incorporate other  key issues relevant to the youth including drugs and substance abuse, sexuality, reproductive health, issues of FGM, socio-cultural values, decision making, assertiveness, positive mental attitude, setting life goals, career choice, communication skills, healthy relationships, child rights and responsibilities, etc.

This way, the program will not only offer age-and-culturally appropriate sexual health information in a safe environment to the youth but also assist them to clarify their individual, family, and community values.

The program should not seem to be purely about sex since the challenges affecting the youth in life are not just about sex or reproductive health. Such a program should be comprehensive enough to help in ‘moulding’ holistic and responsible young individuals.

That way, school children will not only be able to set clear goals for preventing HIV, other STIs, and teen pregnancy but also set personal goals that would help them excel in their studies.

And to ensure that the program does not fail even before it kicks off, the Ministry of Education would also be required to lay practical strategies of implementation. The implementers must not just be any teacher. They must be trained properly and be encouraged to use participatory training methods. Also, when necessary, schools could hire  the services of already existing NGOs and CBOs who have the experience in Life Skills training.

As the process of curriculum overhaul takes place, curricularists need to evaluate the life skills program as it is now and think of replacing it with one that carries practical and relevant content about life of the youths in their immediate environment.

Education Languages Mother Tongue Translation and Interpretation UNESCO

We Must Save Our Mother Tongues from Dying


How fluent are you in your mother tongue? How proud are you about it? Do you know how to read and write in your mother tongue? Or even, is your mother tongue dead or alive?

It is estimated that more than 50 African mother tongues have become extinct in the recent past. Three of these ‘dead’ languages are Kenyan.

Elmoro which was spoken by El Molo community became extinct as members of the community shifted to the neighboring Samburu language.

Kore is a Maa variety spoken by the Kore community who after returning from Somali, where they had been taken captive, settled in Lamu and slowly lost their own language as they adopted Somali language and customs.

Omotik was spoken by the Omotik people of the Great Rift Valley living in Narok County among the Maasai. Today, most of the Omotiks have shifted to speaking Maa.

Due to globalisation, many more languages could go extinct as people prefer speaking international languages. Unfortunately many parents especially in the cities deny their children opportunity to learn native languages by exposing them to, say, English. Parents do this out of ignorance as they think mother tongues are inferior to international languages such as English. With this trend, many more African languages could be declared extinct in the near future.

The death of a language is worse than the burning of a dictionary whose backup is not available anywhere, not even in person’s mind. When a language dies it means a whole culture in its totality has died; a whole community suffers an irreversible loss as it humbly submits to some other community’s language.

When languages fade so does the world’s rich tapestry of cultural diversity. Opportunities traditions, memory, unique modes of thinking and expressions, including valuable resources for ensuring a better future are lost.

Dr Evangeline Njoka, CEO, Kenya National Commission for UNESCO

This year’s International Mother Tongue Day, which is always celebrated every 21st of February, almost went uncelebrated in Kenya until University  of Nairobi (UoN), Bible Translation and Literacy (BTL) in collaboration with United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) to hold a three day fete (starting on 23rd February) in which cultural presentations would be done in local languages besides presentation of research papers.

This year’s theme of the 2016 International Mother Language Day is “Quality education, language(s) of instruction and learning outcomes.”

UNESCO has been putting a lot of effort in urging governments to do all that is necessary to preserve all their positive cultures and traditions since through these diverse cultures, various positive values are passed on to future generations.

But not only does UNESCO promote the use and preservation of mother tongue but also encourages that education for children in pre-primary and lower primary should be done in the children’s mother tongue.

While the teaching of and in mother tongue in towns and cities has not been practical due to the cosmopolitan nature of towns, it is good that teachers and parents allow children to use mother tongue in school and out of school.

It hurts in no way if a pupil is able to speak several languages. Actually, the more the languages one knows in the present world, the better. There is completely nothing wrong with our mother tongues. They are as important as English, French, Italian, etc. They embody our identity than any other language could.

The work of a language teacher should never be to suppress a learner’s language skills acquired in mother tongue but to utilise those skills in the teaching and learning of the second language. This is done as the teacher takes care of the issues of language transfer and likelihood of code mixing and code switching.

There are a lot of debates sorrounding the use of mother tongue as a language of instruction in lower levels of education but what really makes educational sense is that teaching a person in a language they know best is likely to be more fruitful than in the one they are struggling to learn. 

It’s no surprise, therefore, that Nelson Mandela observed, “If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.”