House of Grace, Kisumu Kenya

We are staying overnight at the home of Jim and Eden Grace, in Kisumu, Kenya. Earlier this evening, I caught a glimpse of Lake Victoria out of my second story window. Eden has traveled to the north to visit two Friends hospitals. Jim has been a wonderful host, and their sons Isaiah and Jessie have accepted us into their home. Their two cats seem to enjoy the extra attention, as well.

Eloise and I were met at Kisumu airport by John Muhangi. John is tha Africa Director for Friends United Meeting. John told stories of his travels in the old blue truck, which is ready for retirement, but keeps providing service until John can obtain another vehicle. We had fish for lunch at a hotel just across the street from the office building where F.U.M. has its offices. Prior to lunch, Eloise and I worked with John on refining a schedule for the three day workshop for teachers, school heads and education secretaries for a number of Friends schools in Kenya.

Quite a bit of our conversation today centered on the Kenyan national exams. Every student is graded and compared to others. Schools are compared based on how well their students have done on the exams. I read several articles in the newspapers about the exam results, most of which centered on deficiencies in schools due to a lack of high-performing students. John himself spoke of the need for Friends schools to improve their performance so that students improve their performance. In his logic, the full implementation of the peace curriculum will lead to better school discipline, which will lead to better student performance on national exams.

The exams and the implications of the results for individuals and their schools is a serious national obsession in Kenya. In today’s newspaper, an editorial questioned the value of the national exams and how assessment data are used. The editorial raised a primary objection to the intense attention put on the exams. This objection is that the exams seem to put intense pressure on children to perform well academically so that they can get into university so that they can receive an education that will lead to no result in the job market. That is, in Kenya there is a strong controlling assumption that all learners must race to the top in order to succeed, but when the few winners do get to the top, there is nothing to win, as there are no jobs to be had.

I thought again about my conversation with the Friends Education Secretaries at Lugulu last August. We discussed the needs for additional options for Friends Youth after secondary school, including vocational technical training and education. Matthew Crawford, in his book Shop Class as Soulcraft presented an argument for vocational technical education and training as well. Crawford’s recent book outlined some of the difficulties in American student’s race to the top and the mindless, unsatisfying work awaiting many American college graduates. Indeed, Crawford argues that craft and trade work are two occupational areas fairly wide open in the United States, though we are convincing ourselves there is no value or honor in the trades and crafts, and no money. It seems that the Western view of excellence in education is now affecting the United States in a similar way it has affected Kenya; unemployed or underemployed university graduates along with many ill-prepared young people who were either locked out or chose not to go to the university.

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