Lily Kitala is the director of The Stepping Stones Elementary School.
When she joined Kenyatta University in 1990 to study arts, Ms Kitala had not imagined herself working in the education sector. She had her eyes on either architecture or law, but education was her destiny.
Today, she is an academician with experience spanning more than 20 years, a job she loves. She discusses the emerging trends in education.
Was it hard to make a turnaround from architecture to education?
It was not easy to make the adjustment, especially psychologically, because architecture was my dream job.
Even when I went for a bachelor of arts, my father had goaded me to take the education option, something I had never dreamed of. At the time, I felt boxed in, but today I am enjoying this challenge. Your profession ultimately defines your course in life.
Most people find it difficult to study something different from what they desired, which breeds hopelessness, but there will always be other course options that suit your grades.
Consult your parents, teachers and a career advisor and see what areas they recommend based on your strengths.
How is today’s education system different from when you were going through school?
Foremost, the dynamics of upbringing have changed tremendously. Today’s learners are more exposed through technology. There is a lot of emphasis on giving special care to learners who have learning disabilities such as autism and dyslexia.
Learners have more freedom than during our time. The change of curriculum to a competency-based one has heralded a different way through which we see our education.
Does this influence the learner’s future?
The background and circumstances in which children grow significantly influences their future and the kind of adults they become.
There are, however, few who carve out their own paths, but the larger majority tend to incline towards the family’s value system. Rarely do children who have been raised with a strong moral code grow to become errant adults.
Parents and teachers alike should, therefore, be vigilant about the values and practices that they portray and expose children to since these etch a lifetime imprint in their lives.
We all must rise to the challenges to salvage this generation.
From your experience as a teacher, why has exam cheating persisted despite efforts to eradicate it?
The society in general is guilty of this regrettable mess. We have become more inclined to instant gratification that comes with ‘good’ grades.
We glorify academic performance over other capabilities among students. The assumption that when you fail academically you are doomed creates dread in learners. As a result, candidates buy results and cheat to pass exams.
As a teacher, what is your take on teachers and schools that facilitate exam malpractices?
If, as a teacher or parent, you assist the learner to cheat in an exam, ask yourself what values you are teaching them. Teachers who are involved in this offense are not worth their title. Teaching is a profession that demands high levels of integrity. It is about raising a generation of young people whose future is anchored on good morals.
How then can we ensure that the right standards are maintained in the education sector?
Efforts are being made by the government and other stakeholders to sanitise our education. Eliminating the ranking of learners and their schools, for instance, was a step in the right direction that also eliminated unhealthy competition.
Instead of sending our children to study abroad, we should solve the shortcomings of our education system. Apart from the academic capabilities of the learner, we must promote other attributes that constitute wholesome individuals and members of the society.
What specific attributes should young education trainees acquire in readiness for the profession?
Integrity is key because learners emulate their teachers. You must be patient and tolerant with the parents, teachers and the learners. You must be empathetic and seek to understand the circumstances and needs of each learner.
You also have to be fully given to raising a generation within the proper standards of morals. Education is a diverse field that incorporates many aspects, such as curriculum development, the actual teaching and the business side of it. All this are available for exploitation, but you must be passionate about education.
What is the role of young people in promoting good morals in the society?
You owe the society the responsibility to propagate the good ideals that you have been taught. Peer learning among young people is an example of an effective method of fostering the knowledge learnt. It is also the only sure way to determine if what is taught to them sticks.
Teenage pregnancy has featured extensively during this exam period. What’s your take on this?
The discussion, (about sex) has failed to capture other consequences of early sexual activity such as infections that these learners may have contracted, and instead focused on early pregnancy only.
Teenage pregnancy is a manifestation of the failure of the society. Weak values, dysfunctional families and irresponsibility have played a significant role in the current situation.
Modern parents are more absorbed in their jobs at the expense of their children. If we stopped being individualistic in our pursuits and parents allocated more time to be with their children and to counsel them, we would reduce such cases.
Do you think there is enough emphasis on sex education for young people?
The packaging of sex education in Kenya ought to be reviewed to make it more specific and strategic. Besides reproductive health that is taught from Standard Six, there is very little else that our education system imparts in the learners.
Sex education has to be incorporated in our value systems, such as religion. Times have changed and children are learning about their sexuality from very early on.
If we have to win this battle, we have to create awareness among them from as early as Standard Three.
It is important for the children to know the consequences of engaging in premature sexual activities.
Are you proud of your contribution to the society as a teacher?
Handling learners from their formative years to their teenage is not easy.
It is even harder sometimes to follow up on their progress once they finish their studies, but being able to successfully impart good morals and academic knowledge to make leaners better people is the dream of every responsible teacher.
The good reports that I receive from parents and even the learners themselves after leaving the school gratify me.
I am proud to impact positively on the lives of the many young people who go through my hands. Schools should always track their learners and find out how they are faring.
What are your other interests besides education?
I am fluent in French, and occasionally takes up translation gigs. I love to cook, especially oriental dishes - we have a cookery club at the school. I also play scrabble and I love to travel too.