A Tough Conversation With My Daughter’s Teacher — Miss Jane
“Miss Jane” is a series of articles on the challenges facing the education system in Africa in the age of digital transformation, changing social values and rising inequalities. This article is a follow-up to the letter I wrote to Miss Jane when my daughter Aaliyah was joining kindergarten. This article is based on actual events and encounters.
It is a year and a half since my daughter joined among the top five primary education schools in Tanzania. My wife selected the school based on their results and recommendations from other parents. I firmly believe that it takes more than a school to develop good students; hence I don’t worry much about which school my daughter goes to as long as it is decent enough. My focus is always on who my daughter encounters at school and what they talk about. Hence my meeting with Miss Jane.
Miss Jane called me to collect my daughter’s results from her mid-term examination. My daughter scored 81 per cent on average. The minimum pass mark average of the school for kids 4–5 years old is 85 per cent. Hence Miss Jane told me my daughter needed to pull her socks. Otherwise, she will have to repeat the class. I busted into a laugh; why should someone judge a four years kid based on examination results? Why the obsession with the marks? School is supposed to be fun at that age, and it has nothing to do with exams. Miss Jane was confused by my reaction and response to her feedback about my daughter. She thought I would be worried and requested she does extra classes for her, but that is everything wrong with our education system. We can have a KG entrance exam for assessment and benchmarking, but it shouldn’t be our core business. Also, it shouldn’t be about filling in questions on the papers. Kids can do so much more. Our obsession is with the school ranking and competition; we completely forget who matters most: the student. When you condemn four years old with an average of 81 per cent to failure, then there is something wrong with the system. We must revisit our pedagogical approach to early-stage education. Education is more than just periodical exams, especially in the age of massive transformations.
The Fun Learning approach trusts learning itself to be a fun process. It combines unique learning strategies, inspiring resources and innovative tools. Doing so makes learning an exhilarating, motivating and transformative experience. Thus, Fun Learning helps learners to discover the joy of learning. — The Fun Academy
When designing the “Coders and Makers” project, I challenged Wilson Mabala and the team at MITZ Kits to develop the “Jenga Kit”, a kit which will allow students from low-income families to have a chance to learn by playing. As we grew up, we were called “Watoto Watundu”, creative kids who could almost make anything out of something. This ability naturally stops after joining the school. We become Zombies, obsessed with marks and exam results. How do we preserve the culture of curiosity, which creates a society of problem solvers instead of consumers of solutions? Can we rethink our basic education system?
It was my turn to ask Miss Jane some questions about my daughter. My first question was, “What does she like”. Her facial expression showed that she didn’t know what my daughter was. I went to a KG of more than 120 students, Mabatini Nursery School, Ilala. I would have expected a class of 15 to 20 students. A teacher should at least have an intimate engagement with the students. When your obsession is on passing and failing, you forget to see the apparent skills of the kids. I spent less time with my kids than she spent with her. At least, I thought she would have been able to realize her interests. She loves drawing and making and scores better than others in arts. To be clear, I’m not blaming Miss Jane here. I’m reflecting on the general struggle of our academic system. Sometimes we believe there is education apartheid, and maybe those in top expensive private schools are getting a better education. Sometimes the fact speaks differently. They are all struggling; education is beyond fancy-looking classrooms and costly fees. We seriously need to rethink education in our country.
My current role as the Board Member of the Tanzania Institute of Education (TIE) gives me a slim chance to contribute my two cents on the issue. I’m optimistic about the direction we are taking. You can not fix something corrupted for over 100 years in one night. They will be some mistakes along the way and some lessons to learn, but we can not be comfortable with what we have now.
Under-education has long and deep roots, and it can only be tackled with sustained efforts on all fronts, political, economic, social and educational.
— Karim Hirji (Under-Education in Africa)
Our next big tasks will be to redefine quality education and contextualize our education systems — making sure it is relevant to us and represent our needs, future-proofing and protecting it from being politicized for the interest of the few.