The eLimu team has been up to quite a lot lot in the first quarter of the year. Most of all, we’ve been working on refining the curriculum, which will be the focus of this blog. On 18th March 2014, eLimu was privileged to attend the IBM Africa Cognitive Colloquium. IBM Research had requested eLimu to perform a demo of its app. Inevitably, demos and presentations face both positive and negative feedback, and we take it all as contributions to bettering our product.
One gentleman, however, kept coming back to the eLimu stand. He had taken issue with a fact we had thrown out casually about the syllabus; specifically how it had not changed much since the 1970s. He would casually slink in with a new group of visitors and bring the issue up, challenging us on its veracity and insisting that it was not true. We reiterated, quite patiently by the third time he popped up, that this was a fact mentioned by no less than the education PS himself. Recent developments however indicate that the curriculum is soon to come under review at a cost of a whopping Ksh. 760 Million.
The very next day, as I worked on the Mathematics curriculum, I came across a chapter on money orders. Yes. in an era where Kenya leads the world in mobile money, an era where mobile money is rendering banks obsolete, our children are calculating the rate of sending a money order. I couldn’t help but feel that this was the most pointless waste of time in my life (though, really, I’ve had far worse pointless wastes of time). Seriously though, why are we teaching our children entire chapters about money orders? When was the last time any of us went to a post office? Have you ever gone to the post office (if ever) and fumbled up: “Excuse me, Mr.Postman, but for the life of me, I can’t calculate how much it will cost me to mail this letter”? It’s completely ludicrous, and a pointless waste of our children’s time. I wonder how many more of these anachronisms lurk in the Kenyan curriculum. Are students also being taught to navigate by the light of the sun and the north-easterly winds in the era of Google Maps? Are they learning to use telegrams? As it turns out, I went ahead to check and found out; our children ARE LEARNING TO USE TELEGRAMS! I have never sent a telegram in my entire quarter century lifetime. If you have (or still do on a regular basis), consider yourself officially anachronistic.
At the bottom of the page, eLimu Mathematics CEO, Elizabeth, kindly added a disclaimer in the telegraph segment in the tablet that this service was no longer offered by the post offices.
Then why, for the love of God, pray tell, are our children still learning this? Wouldn’t it be more pragmatic to replace this with MPESA and other mobile money rates? I cannot even begin to comprehend the complete lack of logic behind this: Are the curriculum reviewers simply too lazy to remove these topics? Is there an independence era bigwig behind the scenes who feels these things are simply too important not to be taught? If anyone knows the answers to this conundrum, I would love to hear from you.
This proves the sad old adage of how slow institutions are to implement policy changes. I wrote about the importance of Ken Robinson’s message on education system’s need to adapt here at Waza Experience. Sir Robinson also gives an enlightening talk about the twisted logic of medicating children so that they can learn, engagingly animated by the always fascinating and educative RSA Animate. It’s funny and worth a look.
I’ve had many moments, especially when children tell me they passed examinations because of the tablets, where I have truly felt the significance of what we do here at eLimu. But working on this obsolete chapter truly drove in the importance of our work. Kenya is urgently in need of an education revolution. We need to equip our children with 21st century skills if we are to take on the challenge of Vision 2030. Wasting precious time educating children on obsolete material is doing an entire generation a great disservice. Of course some things in the syllabus are difficult but useful for general knowledge. We all complained about The Mole Concept in high school Chemistry, for example, but setting aside how well/poorly it was taught, it is crucial to basic chemistry knowledge. Why do I need to calculate Pi, or learn trigonometry? Because they are foundations of Mathematics and basic to the workings of the natural world and the universe, that’s why. But telegrams that went out of fashion with World War Two? This is an arcane and unacceptable remission.
I wish that gentleman could read this post. He left no contacts and all we know is that he was a former Geography teacher, so he will probably never know. But what struck me is that he got a good number of visitors stirred up about our ‘defamatory’ statements by pointing out that the syllabus obviously changes because parents buy textbooks every year. I will not delve into the twisted logic of that statement. But it concerns me that parents and teachers (who should know better) remain silent and/or ignorant about what their children are learning. Education is one of the greatest determinant of social well-being and mobility. What we teach our children determines their leaning, career paths, interests, talents, worldviews and so much more. No amount of technology will fix fundamental problems in the curriculum, we will only transmit the same redundancy, as we are required to abide by the KICD standards. Teaching our children about telegrams contradicts the very notion of development. Let us start the education revolution now: Kenyans, take interest in what our children are learning. Demand a better, more relevant curriculum for our children.