The Trouble With School – I

I won’t mince words.

I hold the educational system we have in a fine disdain.


I think it is a short sighted, shallow façade. And I will explain why over this series of posts.

“But you have been through the same system yourself!” You cry.

Indeed. But owning an ugly car does not keep you from knowing what an ugly car looks like.

The other day I was having a banter with one of the neighbourhood kids, a young lady in Standard 7.

It was without a doubt one of the saddest conversations I have ever had.

She wakes up at 5.00 to put in an hour of study.

She prepares herself for school and is waiting for the bus at 6.15

She has classes from 7 in the morning to 6 in the evening.

She has Saturday classes from 9 to 1.

She has homework daily. Without fail. For at least 2 subjects.

She goes to school for 3 of of the 4 weeks of her April and August holidays.

And she’s only about 13 years.

There is a word for this, ladies and gentlemen. And that word is INSANITY.

Her school bag, which he had with her at the time, was impossibly large and impossibly full. I found it troublesome to carry it myself.

I asked her what she did during her free time.

She looked at me blankly.

“When do you for example, read or cycle for pleasure?” I asked.

She was quite blunt

I have no time for pleasure.

I thought back to my childhood when I was in her shoes.

And thought about riding my bike. And reading Tintin, Asterix, Hardy Boys, Billy Bunter and Alistair MacLean.


And reading How Things Work and Encycopaedia Britannica. And going for adventures within and without the estate. And making functional cars out of wire hangers and electrical wire.

And climbing trees without thinking about whether it would be possible to climb down as well.

I have no doubt doing all these things contributed heavily to being the man that I am today.

And I am saddened that this unfortunate girl is being denied these very things. And ten years from now society will pay the price for denying her the very essence of being a kid – being a kid.

Believe me. We will pay.

Next: The Trouble with Primary Education

26 thoughts on “The Trouble With School – I”

  1. My Standard 1 niece (6 years old) leaves home at 6am in the morning (wakes up to prepare for school at 5am), and gets home past 5pm in the evening with hours’ worth of homework. I had her over at my house over the August holidays and she had pages and pages of holiday homework, in each of the 6 or 7 subjects she does (I forget).

    Compare this with a little over 20 years ago when I was in Standard 1. We went to school at 9am, ‘studied’ till 10 am, took a one hour break to play and eat snacks, then did another hour of study and school was done. This happened all the way to Standard 3. We had 3 subjects; reading,writing and counting. Homework was what my parents did with me at home to enhance school learning. I didn’t turn out so badly.

    The system is so focused on competing, it’s messing with our childrens’ brains.

  2. I’ve run Littlewoods Pre school since’82,complained bitterly re:sudden enforcement of 844.Shoul’ve been done at Pre-unit,STD one level.Dr Koech’s
    reprot’s perhaps only in his library.All is not lost.Take your little one where he/she gets a solid,all round foundation..confidence,love of 3Rs.S/he’ll fit anywhere.BTW!not an advert 4 my school.I take only 20kiddos..enough energy 2 turn them like Kux.

  3. There are also kids in nursery to class one who go to school on Saturdays in the name of tuition or remedial classes around the country. At 4-7 yrs, what remedial teaching do you need? Plus the hours they spend in school nowadays is insane. I agree kids need to be kids. At the same time we can’t blame the system,if the members of PTA came together to put a stop to this insanity in schools ,instead of accepting this as a norm it would make a big difference. I remember in class 8 i was in school form 7am- 7pm n Sat 7am-4pm we were given homework without fail until a group of parents complained n took the matter up with the PTA n it made difference. The society seems to have alpha parents now, if they truly accept to pay for their children to go through that.

  4. I am thoroughly looking forward to this series. I had everything except Billy Bunter and tree-climbing in large helpings. What’s funny is that with all this study, the quality of our scholarship seems to be going down. The other day I realized that my Mum, a secondary school teacher, can no longer arbitrarily use articles from the Daily Nation or even the Business Daily as comprehensions. Unless, of course, she wants to create unnecessary problems for herself with regards to grammar. Keep going, can’t wait.

  5. The lady in subject pretty much lives life the way I did. I went to boarding school from Standard One. By Standard 3, it was mandatory to go for Morning Preps at 5AM, do school community work which every student had an assigned area of work; mop the cubicle floor or attend to a certain flower bed, or clean a window. This had to be done between 6AM and 15AM after which we had to prepare for the day in another 15 minutes and have breakfast by 7Am, breakfast was standard, porridge from maize floor. 7AM to 8AM was another session of Morning Preps, in which we struggled to complete several assignments, also in which a teacher ‘booked’ an extra lesson to expedite completion of the syllabus ahead of time. Lessons then followed with each leaving an assignment for us, something about knitting, the usual Math and Languages stuff and such. By 4PM, we were exhausted, completely zero concentration but we still had to go to club meetings on Tuesdays and Thursdays. The other days had sports, which were mandatory, for those who lacked a sporting activity, they were forced to go for cross country running, choir or something of kind.

    Holidays, every pupil from Standard four upwards attended holiday tuition. A three week programme off your four week holiday. Senior classes; class six to eight were required to even resume school two days earlier than the rest. I’ve never found wisdom in that. We ate Githeri every single day of the week, around the year for lunch. I no longer eat githeri for that reason.

    I fully understand what the kid goes through, and possibly what many others do. I am socially and family relation-wise half baked, a loner and that’s not even the worst of issues the current system has brought our education and child development to.

    I look forward to the rest of the series.

  6. Rather unfortunate indeed! I am an early riser (by choice). Today morning at ~ 5.10am I glanced outside and saw a young child of not more than 10 years old (about Std 3-4) sitting on the pavement with the house help waiting for the school bus to come pick her up. How now!!! All in the name of ‘education’

    I started my primary school in the late 80’s. Typical class was 8.20pm – 3.45pm and 3.20pm on Fridays (needless to say that was the best day of the week) with 40 minutes break in the morning, and about 1hr 15 minutes from 12.45 for lunch. Occasionally we had an extra 45 min at the end of the day for reading (for Std 8’s I think it was) until 4.30pm but no later.

    Sports was on I think one or two days, but not on Friday! I happen to think that sport is good but shouldn’t be forced. Any Friday ‘sports’ used to be a good old soccer game…

    Nothing about sijui weekend classes. I rarely used to read at home (and if at all, would be 1-2 hrs max) and half the time it would be Hardy Boys + Case Files or Nancy Drew, Famous Five… Weekends would be strictly full non academic pursuits.

    High School – Was at a boarding school where all round education was emphasized though we did have evening prep ( :( ). At this age one is however more mature and can probably manage the longer study hours.

    Asking Nursery School pupils to go to school on Saturday, or for preps. Seriously!

    Anyway as stated, WE WILL PAY for our current crop of young ones currently being processed through our so called ‘education’ system.

    Too focussed on passing exams, to the extent that people actually commit suicides – students and now head teachers ?!!

    We’re breeding a society where winning is what matters, and at any cost.

  7. I love the Finnish school system.

    Some choice comments from this article:


    In 2006, Finland’s pupils scored the highest average results in science and reading in the whole of the developed world. In the OECD’s exams for 15 year-olds, known as PISA, they also came second in maths, beaten only by teenagers in South Korea.

    This isn’t a one-off: in previous PISA tests Finland also came out top.


    According to the OECD, Finnish children spend the fewest number of hours in the classroom in the developed world.

  8. I can’t begin to imagine that life.

    I remember reading Sweet Valley Kids/Twins/High/University like I was going to be tested on them.

    Yes we had Saturday classes but I remember having fun in those classes. I’d finish my homework so that I could have the weekend free; and even then, the homework was not a lot.

    I’ve had friends pull their children out of the 8-4-4 system because the children stopped having time to be kids and just be.

    Was I competitive then? Very. But it was not the only thing that mattered and that was drilled into me. Now it seems to be the only thing that matters and it’s being advocated on all levels…from the teachers, the parents, society…..what changed?

  9. The lack of free time is worrying. It cultivates a culture of being always on!
    Even now, years later, some time off the daily grind is necessary for one to sit down and reflect on what you’ve been doing, plan for what you need to do next.

  10. are the kids not sleep deprived???? someone should cover this like in a documentary ama the news like seriously when your in nursery, why would you ever need weekend classes. too sad

  11. – One thing I do not understand is: We did more subjects than the current students, and they are in school longer? How is that?
    – From class 1 to class 3, school ended at 12.45pm for us. I was home by 12.55pm. Play started at 1.30pm and ended when parents came home.
    – We played video games, soccer, basketball, shake, roundus (sp!), snakes and ladders. Read books and comics. Socialized. And still passed KCPE
    – The public playground next to where I grew up is now a church. So where do kids play?

  12. M, Good post,
    I have a few niggling questions:
    Why do we go to school? to get a job? (why do other animals educate their progeny? for a job?) there is something very wrong with this picture in that should I sacrifice my kids childhood so that they can get a job? does the best education gaurantee social mobility? (me thinks not) who provides these jobs?
    Where did this type of schooling / education system come / originate from? what was its purpose. It does not matter whether it is 7,6,3 or 8.4.4 the results seem to be the same in terms of what it produces?
    what are the origins of the National shools in Kenya, what was their purpose and who benefited from recruiting the’brightest’ from these schools? what happened to the rest.

  13. I have been pondering about the same issue of lack of free time even after the Kenyan education system narrowed down the number of subjects that our kids go through.
    The other day I had a chat with my nieces about their learning methods & I was quite shocked to say the least. Right from the top, school administrators have it that schools are their little fiefdoms for them to rack in money at whatever cost. That explains the extra-coaching every evening & during the holidays, unnecessary field trips to Nairobi, Nakuru & Mombasa mostly.

    The number of books they buy within their time in first 8 years (for primary schools) to 4 years (for high school) is appalling! And mind you by the time one changes classes, the curriculum is ‘conveniently revised’ and parents forced to buy new books. For instance, my nieces are two classes apart, but the younger one can’t use the elder’s ones books due to such changes. If my memory serves me well, in our family I learnt with almost the same books that my bro who was 5 classes ahead of me started with.

    Another issue is the lack of involvement by most parents. They are usually called for PTA ( Parents Teachers Association) meetings to rubber stamp what the management and school administrators have thought would serve the institution better. By coercing a few cheerleaders a lot of underlying issues are usually overlooked and parents end up paying through their noses for such oversights. Good example, how does an institution have over 50 acres of free range land yet the institution will insist on buying food supplies wholly from middlemen in the local towns? Why not utilise the pieces of land to supplement some of the feeding even if it is for fun? Whatever happened to the 4K clubs in schools?

    Since I can’t put all the issues in this space, it’s nice you’ve touched on this issue to pick our conscience and hope the Education officials are READING this. Being a parent and in 2-3 years the little one joining school, I’m sure whichever school/institution she joins will have one noxious parent! I’ll QUESTION EVERYTHING & keep them on toes!

  14. I agree with you; It is about the whole person. My biggest problem is not even lack of the free time. They may still get the free time and not do much with it because their minds have not been developed to view the world around them in 3D.

    Their imagination has not been nurtured, Creativity is not encouraged, nor is critial thinking tested or participating in community service which I think should start at a young age. Subjects like Art & crafts, Music, wood work are no longer taught. I do not know if the mandatory P.E classes are there anymore. So you end up with kids who may be book smart, but can’t apply the knowledge they have acquired…

  15. Hi M *waving*
    I have heard a parent or two complaining that their children have closed school and they (the parents) are not sure to what to do with them during this free time. With such a mindset the school serves as a convenient place to leave our children while we are off to other pursuits.
    I do not recall that being a problem to my parents as during the school holidays our helper took time off to be with her own family.

  16. In the greater scheme of things, our education system does more harm than good. It puts emphasis on passing exams and not on gaining knowledge.

    Also, the majority of the subjects that they are being taught do nothing for their imagination. How are going to foster innovation if we continue stifling our kids imagination?

    There are no two ways about it, we must get rid of this education system if our country is to develop and prosper.

  17. What a sad state of affairs. And the comments also got it right – all these early starts and long days for such young children is soul destroying. Let me ask though, if the old system was so good why did the powers that be feel the need to change it? Could this competitive thing have anything to do with more and more people chasing ever dwindling resources….We consume more than we produce…that’s a fact whether it is in good primary education, high school places , Uni places or finally in rewarding and worthwile careers. That is what is driving this ugly competition

  18. Lakini its endemic globally (na you see it in stato alot)… While I’m not a fan of the overall book, Kenyatta in facing mt kenya hints at an important dimension of this discussion – yaani the idea of an organic/holistic (and in his sense African) approach to the acquisition of knowledge in contrast to a more sterilized, rigid (European) one.

    My guess is that this is worse now secondary to the marriage between the corporate and academic worlds vis a vis capitalism. Its more about the you on your resume as seen through your future employers eyes than it is about pretty much anything else.

    check this vid out by Ken Robinson, he kaguas it nicely…

  19. So true and I also went through the same system. I have had to relearn how friends are made and kept, relationship wise am dead as dodo. I got very good grades and wonder if they were really worth it.

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