Secondary school heads and parents are currently busy finalising admission of children into Form One nationally, with both parties, alongside education ministry officials, grappling with teething problems in the new, online-based admission system.
And as the annual, now technology-based ritual continues, an important group of students could see their academic and extra-curricular futures nipped in the bud, owing to the stringent admission rules.
These are the primary school leavers with talent in sports who may or may not have attained noteworthy academic results to catapult them to the much sought-after Form One places.
The books-heavy Kenyan learning system offers no incentive for academically-challenged students with talent in sports to pursue their secondary school education while continuing to nurture their talent.
The absence of a policy to motivate such students means only principals with an interest in sports absorb them and offer them a stab at decent education alongside nurturing their sporting talent.
Interestingly, such principals have succeeded in conjuring up a fine cocktail of academics and sporting successes at their respective schools which, besides lifting sports trophies in national school games, also rank high in academic performances.
For instance, the achievements of Paul Otula at Mang’u and Maseno high schools over the years are well documented, with the principal, also chairman of the Kenya Basketball Federation, having produced national champions in both basketball and academics at his work stations.
The same can be said of Peter Orero (Lang’ata, Upper Hill, and Dagoretti high schools), Robert Aran (Shimba Hills, Kaya Tiwi), Rogers Mwafungo (Waa Boys, Dr Aggrey), Leonorah Ameny (Mwakitawa Girls, Talent Academy) and Cheruiyot Barno (Cheptil), to name but a few.
Growing up, my own alma mater, Cardinal Otunga High School, Mosocho, was a national sports and academic force due to the personal interest shown in creating all-round students by then principals, Innocent de Kok and Anthony Koning,
Dutch lay missionaries who showed huge respect for talent — academic and extra-curricular — in the 1980s. It was then that respected Kenya international basketball stars such as Philip Omany, Ronnie Owino, Gerald Nyaoma, Peter Achar, Kennedy Ondiek and Robert Omolle led “Cards” to several national basketball titles and, at the same time, excelled in their ‘O’ and ‘A’ levels.
The same applied to hockey and athletics where our school produced national stars such as Kennedy Ondiek, Kennedy Ochieng and Shem Ochako, who were Kenya senior national champions in the 100 metres, 400 metres, 400 metres hurdles and 1,500 metres, respectively, with Peter Kiruma, Paul Omany, Cliff Odendo, Tom Olal, Chris Akumu and Paul Ouma, among others, going on to wear Kenya national colours in hockey.
Paul Onyera, the former Kenya Breweries FC and Harambee Stars winger, led the football-playing lot from “Cards”, with the same philosophy replicated in our then arch-rivals, including St Patrick’s Iten, Kisii High School, Kisumu Boys and Itierio Boys secondary schools.
As school heads and education authorities grapple with teething problems in the National Education Management Information System (Nemis), the moratorium in the offing should offer an appropriate window for principals to consider including sports talent in their call-ups.
Why can’t affirmative action also come into play with students boasting sports talent considered on this basis and offered an academic waivers after which they can be moulded into good all-round individuals?
Due to the fact that the current selection system doesn’t factor in non-academic talent, students of sports pedigree are often selected to schools with no coaches, no basketball courts or no time at all allocated to co-curricular activities in our imbalanced, academics-heavy curriculum.
They then waste away.
While it would be foolhardy not to emphasize an academics-first approach, life these days isn’t all about just books.
Success stories abound of students who have been enrolled in American or Japanese high schools, for instance, on sporting scholarships and gone on to graduate after focused training.
Such students would have otherwise seen their dreams curtailed by failure to gain Form One admission simply because they managed sub-200 scores in Kenya Certificate of Primary Education exams.
Fortunately, right from primary schools where sports and co-curricular activities form an integral part of learning, there are well-kept records of youngsters talented in sports, which records are available at sub-county, county and national level, and also with Directorate of Quality Assurance officials.
Why can’t the respective county governments finance scholarships for these documented, talented students at institutions that allow extra attention to the development of sports talent?
Creating such centres of excellence could be one sure way of stemming the tide of Standard Eight students failing to further the education for the mere fact that they may not be as academically endowed as they are talented in sports.
Looking around our national leagues in various sporting codes, you will find students nurtured by principals like Orero, Aran, Barno and others making a decent living out of playing for top clubs, while many more have broken into the US collegiate system and made a fortune out of cocktailing sports and academics.
This is a conversation the ministries of sports and education should have, on a policy-making level, to help tap into the fast-diminishing reservoir of sports talent among our children.
With the proposed new curriculum offering attention to talent development, smooth transition of sporting talent from primary to secondary schools into universities and colleges must be mainstreamed into this system.
Our children can’t all be doctors, lawyers or engineers, but quite a number can be high-earning professional sportsmen and women whose contribution to the development of our nation can be as pronounced as that of holders of white-collar jobs.