Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Fallacy of Obsession with Passing Exams

A few days ago I watching news coverage of the Kenya Certificate of Secondary Schools Education - or whatever it is called - and was surprised to hear this journalist, while reporting on the number of those who failed to meet the university admission cut off points, authoritatively state their dreams of achieving their aspirations has ended. I couldn't help but think that therein lies the problem with our education system, selling the fallacy that it is only by passing examinations and going to university can one achieve their dreams. What this does is that for the thousands of kids who get to believe this message and who don't make it as far as formal education is concerned, their confidence in making a better life is shattered, and some will accept their fate and withdraw from any endeavor to exploit their talents and other opportunities.

When I was in high school, I had two exceptional friends whose names I will not mention. One was extremely lazy in class but brilliant artistically. He scored all Es - he hardly answered any questions - in the final exams and he never gave a hoot about exams. He went on to design matatu art, pimp cars, design t-shirts and has generally made a good life for himself. The other one, though not really a bookworm in the sense, was extremely brilliant and scored all As. He went to university and studied one of the elite courses - choose between Medicine, Architecture, Law- but is a mess of a human being at the moment. I see him I try and avoid him as most likely he will be trying to squeeze a penny out of me, most likely for a drink. I have another example of a friend who committed suicide out of depression after getting brilliant scores and going through one hell of a roller coaster ride in campus. My point is that performing well in exams is not necessarily a guarantee that dreams will be fulfilled, and also performing poorly is not a sentence to a miserable life.

I usually cite my life as an example. I did not perform brilliantly in my form 4 exams. As a matter of fact, I did not get the required marks to go to university, though I did not fail flat for that matter. But getting Ds in Maths, Chemistry, and Biology as well as a D- in physics did not inspire confidence in me among some of my family members. But now I head an international NGO in the country. Here is a link to an article I wrote about my perceptions on this sometimes back


  1. True bro, what we have created is essentially a false reliance on rote method of learning to gauge people rather than critical thinking which alternative systems of education use. I strongly believe that the Kenyan obsession is based on the reality of finding employment after school!Am living in a country where the in thin is to finish school and work in the mines where you can earn so much money compared to people working in the other mainstream occupations. So the way to balance the equation in Kenya would be to ensure that there is a minimum wage of some sort to ensure that all jobs are dignified and so not skew them in favor of white collar jobs...

  2. This is an issue that has bogged me for a long time and all you have put down resonates well within my own feelings towards the robotic nature of our education system. with a wealth of experience and excellent resume of results, one still gets to a dead end when you are asked for that unavailable university certificate when you clutch to your precious diploma cert. that has seen you become more practical rather than prestigious.Great article and your story is a true reflection of your management style, Kudos.

  3. You have raised a good point. The fact is a person with gifts can squander them or make the best of them and an education isn't an indicator of what they will choose. It does help a lot though if you can at least read and write and do mathematics.

  4. "But getting Ds in Maths, Chemistry, and Biology as well as a D- in physics did not inspire confidence in me among some of my family members." This bit has got me smiling, this post holds so much truth. Now that conversation we had about intelligence makes even more sense...