Monday, June 27, 2016
Education standards mantra is misplaced
For a long time, the song in Malawi has been that education standards have dwindled. The yardstick has always been Malawi National Examinations Board results at Primary, junior and senior secondary school levels.
What is quickly forgotten is the fact that examinations' results are just one of the factors influencing the outcomes; the others being learning environment, demotivation of teachers, cultural context, religious context, historical context, home environment, among others.
Factors such as demotivation, learning environment and cultural context may be self-explanatory; so, let me focus on religious and historical context.
Some districts in Malawi, most notably the Southern Region districts of Machinga and Mangochi have high illiteracy rates because the Muslim population is dominant and pupils born from Muslim parents are sent to schools where they learn more about the Holy Koran other than conventional school. This has bled a population of illiterate people in Machinga and Mangochi, and is a typical example of the culture context.
That said, the Central Region district of Dedza has always been a puzzle when considered as a cog in the game-of-illiteracy. The district has Chewas, Ngonis, Yaos and yet, despite the ethnic diversity, illiteracy levels are high. Dedza is a puzzle whose answer has eluded education experts. But, then, this is a story for another day.
Historical context, which is the reason for my posting is another crucial factor which is often overlooked. But the truth is that our education is not 'Malawian' because it was introduced by the British. We even speak their language:English. Whoever controls your language controls you.
So, in a way, Malawians have so many gods (they are idol worshippers), one of their gods being the English language!
Actually, it's not just Malawians (meaning, the individual citizens) who worship English. Their examinations' board, the Malawi National Examinations Board, is the grand-worshipper of the little God called English because you may score 1s in all Malawi School Certificate of Education subjects (be it Geography, Chichewa, Biology, History, Life Skills, History, Chemistry, Bible Knowledge, and what have you) but failure in English means one does not receive a certificate.
This means English is the best thing to have ever happened to Malawians. What twaddle!
After all this worshipping of the little god called English, we all talk about how low 'our' education standards have sunken.
And, there, lies our biggest mistake. The education does not belong to us; it belongs to the English, who control us by ensuring that we speak in their language and that, most sadly, our definition of failure should be premised on how we fare in English.
When the Akafula, Abathwa or Amwandionerapati-the first inhabitants of Malawi (of course, before Malawi was born-did not have the word 'yellow'in their vocabulary but could communicate effectively. As they say in Cultural Studies, every language is sufficient to meet the needs of that language. When they got into contact with other languages, their vocabulary became limited. They had to accommodate new terminologies. The worst case is that of the Ngoni of Malawi, though. Through exposure to the Chewas and Tumbuka, all their words became limited and they did not only lose their soul; they also lost their language in its entirety, although some pockets of Ngonis speak it and Hora Mountain in Mzimba has become a kind of cross for the Ngoni of Mzimba. Like the two sinners hung with Jesus Christ, they find salvation by looking up - be it upon the cross or Hora Mountain. Maybe their souls and language, respectively, may be redeemed.
What I am saying is that whoever controls one's language controls the other's self. In our case, the British control our thinking because we think in their language. That is not all, however; they even control our education system. If a candidate fails in the English language, they fail themselves, and fail life itself. How sad!
So, when we say our education standards have fallen, we are talking nothing about ourselves, really. More so because we do not have education standards of our own. Instead, we look at standards through the eyes of the British, who decided what sort of education we should have!
No wonder that, with Brexit, some Malawians are having sleepless nights. Unsure of what the impact of Brexit may be on Malawi!
So, the British -through their language, English- even control people's sleep in Malawi (in terms of how much sleep one should have)?
Unless we describe what constitutes quality education, through comparative analyses of other countries, say in Southern Africa, or some historical context of us against ourselves (in terms of how well candidates used to fare, say, in the 1970s, we cannot talk of education standards going to the dogs because, really, all we are doing is measure education standards using 'foreign' eyes: Those of the British, who control our language, our thinking and, in worst cases, even some people's sleep!
In summary, Malawians are not independent enough to talk of quality education. After all, apart from Chinamwali, Jando, Chikudzukudzu, among others, they (Malawians) do not have education of their own. They are orphaned, education wise.