If it was not for the fact that my publicly-funded primary school had a little library and proper structures and desks with dedicated teachers, you would not be reading this column.
Neither would I even be talking A-B-C but instead married off illiterate at nine and three-quarters and milking cows in the Marsabit desert.
There is nothing wrong with milking cows, but it is more inspiring to know that with education, I could now give KCC and Brookside a run for their money.
You see, I know some bookkeeping and a few extra things I could do with beef, milk and cheese more than my illiterate mother would ever do.
As luck would have it, my poor parents, like many others, were cushioned from financial hardship by a well-resourced public primary school.
Until the word corruption was discovered ‘mysteriously’ in a dictionary somewhere in Kenya, public schools had the basics. Boy, have we taken to corruption like duck to water!
Sadly, our education system has not been spared its damaging tentacles either. No wonder school playgrounds have long been turned to bars.
I was saddened to hear recently from a friend with a daughter in primary school that it now takes a bribe for a teacher to give a child attention in our overflowing classrooms. Children’s dreams are being snatched away right under our noses.
Which brings me to the question, why, then, have exam league table when the education sector is facing a myriad problems and is unequal on so many levels?
The exam league table in Kenya has intrigued me as much as the phrase ‘pull up your socks’.
I was always baffled how such a meaningless phrase held traction in our education, where nearly two-thirds of the pupils were from poor backgrounds and could ill-afford the basics at home, let alone such fancy school apparel called socks.
Have we paused to wonder whether the league table was set up on a level playing field or do we just go through the motions of keeping it because we inherited it from the colonial government?
As we embark on rolling out the Competency-Based Curriculum, it might be time to also ponder how to improve standards in schools.
Pursuit of academic excellence seems to be every Kenyan parent’s desire. However, some of the parents and children are let down by lack of proper facilities in many schools.
As I was researching for this article, I watched a video clip of a volunteer teacher in Marsabit asking for help for his pupils, who were crammed in poorly built mabati school.
Such volunteer teachers have become a godsend to many nomadic communities, where they also rely heavily on camels to ferry the minimal study materials around.
Pictures of schools around the country where children sit on cold floors or stones and lack toilets; books and uniforms have become the norm.
Where standards in education are lacking and unequal, it’s unfair to retain an exam league table that’s not based on a level playing field.
Insecurity in parts of the northeastern and coastal regions have been disrupting learning for some years.
Teachers are fleeing in droves. Hence, schools from such places will not be topping the league table any time soon. But they should have an opportunity to do so.
The bottleneck created by the few traditionally excellent schools that top the exam league seems to have played into the hands of corrupt teachers and principals, who allegedly sell slots to the detriment of poor but clever children.
The exam table creates unhealthy competition, where parents end up putting pressure on the weak public schools and teachers.
Exam cheating is, therefore, not a surprise as parents jostle for places in the few good schools.
The table puts too much emphasis on academic excellence over emotional and psychological achievements, according to an English friend, Noreen, who supports a school in Turkana.
Her view is that children need to excel morally, emotionally and psychologically too.
It makes no sense to have an ‘A’ student who lacks compassion and is unkind to fellow humans and corrupt to boot.
Her school gives awards to kind, compassionate and helpful but academically gifted students.
Being a retired nurse and trained psychologist, I believe Noreen knows a thing or two about human behaviour to qualify to make such observations.
Let us, therefore, not go through our education system by looking at issues mechanically, but take a holistic approach in improving standards to create a generation of balanced and well-educated individuals who were given equal opportunities.
Hence, more funding should go towards building schools and providing learning resources in a uniform manner.
Standardised education is the only way to justify the exam league table.
Ms Guyo is a legal researcher. [email protected] @kdiguyo