Prof. George Mahoga

I am not a fan of George Magoha, the Cabinet Secretary for Education in Kenya. I admit that I was happy when he was appointed to his post but his management style and general leadership is so deeply flawed that any pros he may have, have been outpaced by his cons.

He seems to run the education sector like a personal business, with little regard for teamwork, essential (soft) skills and even basic character strengths such as respect. His humiliating a senior county educational official who has served for almost three decades in the sector, shaming him in front of colleagues and the media has nothing honourable in it. The reason to shame him was that the school was dirty. The senior officer had clearly told him the reason for the status but the Secretary changed his demeanour when the media showed up. One can correctly assume the change was to show power.

However, it is the communication of the manner in which learners will recoup the lost time due to Covid-19 for the next two years that reaches fever pitch for me. Basically, learners will practically be in school for the next two years with very short breaks.  As a psychologist, I am worried that parents and children are being subjected to efficiency and not involved as key stakeholders in the educational sector. The parents and their children do not exist for the ministry, the ministry exists for the parents and their children, the learners. To act arbitrary, without taking into consideration, their concerns and cares is an authoritarian and ‘total-man’ syndrome.

It is not farfetched for me to talk of an increase in mental illnesses as learners will be forced through a very busy and intense period. It is established psychological knowledge that sleep helps in building memory, regulating mood disorders such as anxiety and depression which leads to irritability. The pressure to perform, in addition to poor sleeping patterns which many high schools enforce on teenagers, will result in indiscipline and mental health and at worst, riots and burning of schools. If you did not know, teenagers need more hours of sleep (8-10) due to the drastic psychophysiological changes happening within them and the moods changes that accompany that process. Learners who will survive the next two years will largely be without hobbies and balanced growth as they will be forced to go through the system to avoid backlog and repeating classes at the expense of their emotional and general wellbeing.

The financial strain on the parents cannot be understated. Millions of Kenyans have either lost their jobs or have had their salary reduced. The government has shown no effort to help, going further to demand that parents clear their school fees even after requiring principals not to do so prior. This unpredictability of the ministry is wanting. This is the same ministry that had assured parents that learning will not resume until 2021 only to change their minds and require Grade 4 and Form Four learners to resume within a fortnight’s notice. Many of the latter are anxious and worried about their capacity to perform. One of the Laws of Learning is that the learner has to be ready otherwise the learning will be annoying and not effective.

Think of a husband or wife who is working so hard to put food on the table and also to pay school fees on half a salary or less. This will translate to men and women who are mentally and physically exhausted.  Alcoholism will peak as parents, mainly men, try to cope with the pressure. Domestic conflicts will increase which will make the situation worse. Parents will be less available to each other and to their children while demanding high academic performance from their children who are sleep deprived and victims of efficiency over effectiveness. Their children will perform poorly as they worry about conflicts between their parents and irregular attendance of school due to lack of school fees and indiscipline. Poorly performing children will be viewed by their parents as ungrateful. Such children will feel unloved and their self-worth will plummet. They will seek ways to cope and drugs, porn, sex will be top among the list.

Teachers too will be under tremendous pressure to finish the curriculum. They too are individuals and parents with financial needs of their own. They will bring those frustrations to each other in school and onto their learners, either consciously or unconsciously. It will not be uncommon to hear teachers beating their learners savagely for minor mistakes. This is referred to as displacement. Imagine a teacher who is angry with his or her salary scale, upset due to an argument he or she had with his or her spouse due to their financial status or some other reason that has also affected their sexual life, pressured by the principal to perform, a principal who is between the educational ministry led by an insensitive leadership on one hand and aggrieved parents on the other. Imagine that that teacher is also concerned with the behaviour of his or her own child and with all these issues, he or she gets irritated by a learner. May the Lord have mercy on such a learner!

The quality of education and the wellbeing of key stakeholders, parents, learners and teachers have been largely compromised. Effectiveness has been sacrificed on the altar of efficiency. That never works with regard to people. Efficiency is for things and not people as Steve Covey wisely wrote.

I wish the ministry of education could have properly consulted parents, teachers and psychologists before embarking on this ill-advised plan to force-feed learning onto young minds for the next two years. It is irresponsible, to say the least.

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