By Bob G. Kisiki
It’s an old story; everyone has heard and, possibly, told a variant of it at some point. The one I heard from a mother who said her own children did it, goes that she went to her home village with her children and, when her children saw mangoes on a tree, they were confused. “Mommy,” one of the boys asked, “who hung those mangoes there?” “Which mangoes sweetheart?” the mother asked, and the boy pointed at a tree overhung with fruits. She was mortified! You can say with confidence that Uganda is a fruit country and you would be 100% justified. We are blessed with a whole assortment of fruits, including pineapples, mangoes, oranges, jack fruit, melon and many others. Unfortunately, many people only get to see these fruits on the market stalls and, sometimes, on supermarket stands and refrigerators.Outside that, those fruits could as well have dropped from heaven, like the biblical manna.
My friend’s children were pupils at very high end schools, yet they did not know that mangoes grew on trees. You want to ask, when you hear a story like that, whether those schools teach Science and/or Agriculture. Because if they do, how could the children not know the most elementary of facts regarding something that floods all markets and roadsides in the country, twice a year? There has to be a gap somewhere. Back in the day, schools took the trouble to get the children to practise what they learnt. For instance, at the school I went to, besides having the theoretical content taught in the confines of the classroom, each class had a tract of land where we grew a variety of crops. This happened in Senior One and Two.
In my time, our class grew beans and maize, using a system called inter-cropping. We cleared the bush, collected the grass, planted the seed, weeded the garden after the crops had come up, tended the crops to ensure they were not attacked by pests and or diseases and, finally, did the harvesting. Though the school had a huge farm with several workers, none of them came to lend us a hand at any stage of the growing of the crops we cultivated on our tracts. We did everything on our own. And for motivation, though what we grew ended up in the kitchen and finally at our dining tables, we were actually paid for what we grew. The school bought the produce! How proud we felt, to be feeding the entire school! If we had chosen to grow rice, we would have grown rice, and if cowpeas, then it would have been cowpeas. At the end of it all, if one of us was travelling by bus or train or some other way and chanced on a rice field, they would not wonder what that grass was; and if one found mangoes on a tree, they would never ask who had hung the fruits there.
Unfortunately, that does not happen anymore. Schools no longer have the time and space on their timetables for such vital, practical lessons. They consider it time wasting. What they have time for is teachers going to class early in the morning, mid-morning, afternoon, evening and night, stuffing the learners with content that the poor children have no time to digest and synthesise properly, day in, day out; all week, all term! Ultimately, the children are forced to cram the notes the teachers have given, including drawing pictures the teachers themselves copied from textbooks, and reproduce that content in the tests and exams they’re given every other day.
That is not education; imbibing and then regurgitating information is not education. Proper learning should happen where what the child is being taught actually happens. By all means, do the theory, but without application, learning never happens. All learning is geared towards application, so that the child can employ what they learnt at school in their day-to-day life situations. Like someone said, [real] education is what remains after one has forgotten what one learnt at school. What this implies is that, after you have forgotten the Πr² formula, you can still profit from the calculations you learnt using that formula. The formula is a route, but the benefit is the destination. Nobody will insist that if you don’t use the route you used in class, you won’t get to the destination; no. The finished product must be a self-sustaining, profitable and creative person who is not going to accumulate academic degrees, then sit by and vegetate, waiting to be offered a high-paying job they will not perform at, because they never learnt to think and create.
Application is more important than the actual content you’re feeding the learner on. It is what makes the learning relevant. If you teach me about clefs and finger frets but give me no guitar to actually learn to play a tune on those frets, you have wasted my time. If you teach me about matrices but can’t point me to a tray of eggs or a crate of soda/water/beer, to say this arrangement is actually an example of matrices, you are only taking me halfway the journey. If you teach me what the Bible says about fornication, but don’t take me through how I can detect that someone wants to drag me down the road to Fornication Avenue, you have done no work. If we talk about the Western Rift Valley or the Rwenzori ranges, but you don’t take me there to see how people survive on the foothills and on the actual sides (and maybe on top) of the mountains, or how farming happens in the Rift Valley, you have shown me only a silhouette; not the true picture.
There is no subject taught in school that is an end in itself. All the subjects are a means to a facet of life as it’s lived in the society, and it’s the teacher who is educating the learners who can take the learner to the logical conclusion of the relationship between class work and real life. Other than that, you’re doing what is marketable these days – aiding the children to score grades that will enable them appear in the papers when the Uganda National Examinations Board (UNEB) releases the results at the end of seven/four/ two years. But you can be sure, that will not be the last time the products of such a system will appear in the papers. They will be there again as subjects of investigations into suspicion of academic fraud; they will be in the media for robbing the nation of huge sums of money; they will be written about for engaging in acts of immorality, because while you concentrated on the cognitive domain, you neglected the affective and psychomotor, which are best developed as learners are aided to take the theory into application. That is the relevancy of education.
An old friend of mine sometime in the early 2000s travelled to Canada, Switzerland, China and Japan during the holidays, recording all the land forms and features that he was going to teach the Geography class when the term reopened. When he returned to school, he was tasked by the school administration to explain why he was wasting children’s time showing them videos, yet they had to complete the syllabus of Senior Four, so they could have ample time for revision. His explanations of facilitating real learning using pictures and videos fell on deaf ears and his job was nowhere. Gladly, he sought employment in a place where they believed in him.
But, why is this situation prevalent in schools all over the country? Why don’t schools have time for practical work anymore? What is missing in the chain that used to happen back in the days, when education was more wholesome? Why don’t schools train children in how to lay their beds, ask them to peel matooke and weave baskets anymore? What went wrong? Who is not doing their work?
First, parents pay a lot of money to have their children educated in many of these schools. Why don’t they ask that the children are given value for money? I will hazard a reason: They too lost track of what real education entails. They’re all crazy for the D1s and As at the end of whatever academic segment their children are at, so they do not want anything that will “distract” the children. When you sit in as they discuss ways of facilitating their children to pass well, on those now popular teachers-parents committees that are formed when new classes are admitted to schools, they will insist on teachers giving the children more contact hours (meaning during early morning preps, night preps and during the time set apart for sports in the evening, before supper, as well as on weekends). Nobody will advocate for practical, relevant education.
The lack of inspection by government agencies does not help matters either. As long as the school has an operational licence (which comes with paying taxes), then the government is comfortable. How they teach is their own business. The government, through the line ministry, needs to take a keener interest in how schools dispense education. Ultimately, it’s the “owner” of this body of workers, whether they will join public service or go to the private sector. Thinking that as long as school proprietors pay for their licence, it is okay, is counterproductive.
Education needs to be geared towards solving society’s problems and, there is no way students who are only given theoretical knowledge will think up ways of overcoming the snags that bedevil this country. If our children go through school, up to university and beyond, but don’t know the most basic of practical experiences, they have not benefited from all the years they spent in school. Education has been for them an end in itself not a means to better life in the society. Education demands more than this; it is holistic!
proprietors pay for their licence, it is okay, is counterproductive. Education needs to be geared towards solving society’s problems, and there is no way students who are only given theoretical knowledge will think up ways of overcoming the snags that bedevil this country. If our children go through school, up to university and beyond, but don’t know the most basic of practical experiences, they have not benefited from all the years they spent in school.
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