A Comparison Between Education in Kenya and the U.S

The children sit under a tree on benches. A free standing blackboard that has seen many years of chalk is set up in front of them. The teacher writes a few words on the board and the children copy it down into their books. Their look at their teacher with rapt attention as he/she starts to explain the day’s lesson. A lot of what they will do will be in theory. If there are any science experiements, they will stand at one table and watch the teacher do the experiment. As it progresses they will write down their notes about any observations they make, and the teacher’s explanation of the results. Their notebooks serve as their textbooks and their memories serve to fill in the gaps. How are they able to do well enough to compete with children in more developed countries?

Schools around the country are clamoring for more money to put educational programs into schools. Money is needed for better equipment, more books, qualified teachers, teaching supplies. The list is endless! While I agree that this is true, I think that the primary focus should be instilling a love of education into our children. Too often we find kids bored in the classroom because the class does not pique their interest. Anything is exciting if you put the right spin on it, and teducation is no exception. A computer is not going to help a child learn if they are not interested in learning. How do we make it relevant to their day-to-day lives? Much of the education in science and technology in Kenya is focused on dealing with real daily situations. Why is it important to throw away garbage? What are the effects of garbage in the streets? How does it affect families and businesses? Would that affect the economy? How does that affect Kenya’s standing in the global economy? Children come up with solutions to these problems ( some of which have been implemented by corporations) and learn to utilize their education to help better their world.

Challenge our children. The dumbing down of the educational system to accomodate our children who ‘can’t’ handle too much has allowed our children to limit their abilities and settle for less than they are able. A ‘C’ in any other culture is the equivalent of an ‘F’, yet our children consider that a pass. As long as they don’t get a ‘D’, they did well. Why do we allow this?? Parents play just as much a part in this as the school system does. Kenyan parents value education ( a throwback to the time when their parents were not allowed to go beyond second grade during colonial occupation) and refuse to allow anything less than an ‘A’ or a hard-earned ‘B’ in their house. Children always rise to the occasion and like to be challenged. It is a part of their self-affirmation. In Kenya, the children get tested on everything that they have learnt from 1st through 8th grade in a national exam (I guess it could be equivalent to the SAT exam). High schools are at a premium so only the kids with really good scores get to go on to 9th grade. The competition is stiff with only the top 10% making it into high school. Most of the questions are in essay form so they must write (in grammatically correct english) a detailed explanation to demonstrate why and how they arrived at their conclusion.

Encourage reading. Kenyan children are avid readers. I remember borrowing books from friends who kept a log so that they could keep up with where their book was. We even wrote books and had them passed around the class so that kids could quench their thirst for stories. The children share all kinds of books and share what they learn with each other. There are usually debates during recess about how to design a particular item or conduct an experiment with everyone trying to outdo each other. Since books were so expensive, it was, for many kids, the only way to get to read some of the books on the market. My teacher would read a chapter a day from the book ‘Jane Eyre’ when we were in third grade. I will never forget how interesting it was. I went on to read more of Charlotte Bronte’s books which I now share with my daughter.

Math is fun. Let’s get our children to enjoy it. My daughter loves to add when we go shopping. She calculates the average price for everything and is now very interested in the fact that there is a tax on items that are purchased. It now costs me whatever the price is, plus tax, for all items that she sells to me ( her drawings, stories, anything she can put a price on). I am sure once she figures out how to calculate it accurately, the markup will go up, accordingly. She measures when she cooks and has learnt that math is relevant to everyday life. She never realized she was doing math until she got into school and started using it to calculate problems. Use the online math games to get them excited about math. My favorite is still Cool Math where kids can play games and learn math concepts (I am quite a junkie for this site..sigh!).

Encourage creative play. There is something to be said for not having 180 channels of television available to you. Sometime technology can be your enemy. Allow the children lots of creative play time and limit television to the bare minimum. Some children in Kenya can’t afford toys and end up making their own. I have seen intricate wire cars made from dismantled wire hangars, that are functional and can be used for races. I remember races, three-sticks, kati, jump rope and more. No money involved, just good clean fun and imagination. You learn how to think outside the box, get creative ideas, and implement new things.

Yup. Sometimes it is enough to just have a chalkboard in front of you. The key is to have the desire to learn and the support from those around you to achieve your goal.

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