The idea that the full potential of academic giants – or of any child, really – can only be achieved within the walls of the so-called dream schools is charming but misguided.
Two contrasting yet equally damning headlines in two local dailies last week on Tuesday showed the troubling trend of placing a high premium on children being admitted to the crème de la crème schools.
One of the headlines read: "Old giants scoop top KCPE stars" while the other read "Pain as top students miss dream schools".
The Daily Nation reported that Education Cabinet Secretary George Magoha revealed the ministry had placed 30,000 candidates in schools they had not chosen.
He attributed this to lack of schools in counties where children sat their examinations, and a majority of the candidates giving the 85 newly-upgraded institutions a wide berth in favour of the hallowed 18, consisting of schools like Alliance High School, Pangani Girls, Mangu High School and the Kenya High School.
“I wish to ask parents, guardians and teachers to work closely with candidates during the process of selecting schools to ensure they make the right choices,” said Prof Magoha.
But most parents, guardians and teachers are products of a broken system that most likely stripped them of their dignity and imagination, so how can they be trusted to let the children know that missing a slot in the Big 18 doesn’t mean they are doomed?
Some parents and guardians took to social media to express their disappointment with the schools their bright children had been called to.
“How can my son who scored over 400 marks be called to this dingy, unremarkable school where they probably eat githeri five times a week and bread once a year?” is a mild exaggeration of one of the questions that kept cropping up.
To be fair, every parent believes their child is entitled to the best in life.
It’s also human that a parent whose child survived the anxiety-inducing Kenya Certificate of Primary Education (KCPE) would expect the reward to be a good school.
Parents can gallivant all the way to the special desk the ministry promised to set up to “listen to parents and address challenges that may arise from the selection process”, yet the truth of the matter is that there was always going to be a disappointed child, parent, guardian or teacher.
It would be more productive to relieve the pressure on the candidates to be admitted in the “Big 18” by letting them know academic excellence exists within them and not behind wrought iron gates and imposing colonial-style buildings.
And that apart from the githeri and boiled cabbage that they will eat daily while their counterparts enjoy sausages and bacon, the curriculum is the same.
Lending moral support to the children who are victims of the exceedingly high expectations thrust upon them by their schools and teachers is certainly a better use of the parents’ energies than visiting the Ministry of Education’s office or taking to social media to cry foul.
And what makes a school perfect, anyway? Is it the bragging rights that come with it? The excellent structures? The splendid menus?
The school buses? Or is it the nurturing environment, the teachers and the equipment? Because as long as the basics of education are covered, parents should release their disappointment to the winds as it will give their children permission to do so as well.
The truth is that even the so-called ‘low-grade’ schools are that way because the parents failed to vote in leaders whose job it is to make sure they are schools worth going to.
The power to change these schools also rests in parents taking more active roles in parent-teacher associations and alumni organisations by volunteering their time and money.
It makes no sense for parents to join their children in mourning if they saw the schools dying and did nothing about it.
The writer is the editor, Living magazine; [email protected]