|Kenya’s education system needs to produce thinkers|
| Written by Laila Macharia |
(Printed in Business Day Africa carries a selection of stories from the newspaper Business Daily, published out of Nairobi by the Nation Media Group.)
March 12, 2008: The political and social upheaval of recent months has its roots in a flawed education system. Although our nation has invested billions in it, once passions are inflamed, there appears to be no difference between the illiterate and the well-schooled.
Those advancing flawed and self-serving theories, forwarding hate e-mail and stereotyping entire tribes were teachers, journalists, bankers, doctors, lawyers and engineers.
Our curricula, starting in primary school right through university, must be urgently overhauled to incorporate critical thinking — intellectual humility, substantiation, fair-mindedness, logic, tolerance for ambiguity and confidence in reason. Instead of rote learning (memorisation of facts), Kenyans must be taught to think.
The mature thinker works hard to discipline her own mind. Vigilant against flaws in reasoning, she is keenly aware that human beings, including herself, have blind spots, prejudices, biases, distortions and vested interest.
So, she practices intellectual civility which tolerates contrasting views and considers the rights of others. She is not intellectually lazy, clarifies premises, advances argument systematically and doesn’t over-simplify issues. She is intellectually honest and doesn’t twist herself into a noodle to win an argument that appears increasingly weak.
The first casualty of critical thinking is propaganda, which presents facts selectively towards a biased conclusion to provoke an emotional rather than rational response. On the campaign trail, for instance, the “We are being finished” message typically emphasises certain facts while omitting others to whip up audiences into a froth of fury.
The critical thinker is well-equipped to detect and debunk such messages, stripping them of their power. He will scrutinise the evidence supporting statement and its context, examine the motives of the speaker, whether the statement is balanced or seems incomplete or distorted, and if the language chosen is inflammatory or superlative. Skeptical of generalities, this mature thinker will challenge words like ‘always’ and ‘never’ and sniff out myths and stereotypes.
Had adult Kenyans been deliberately taught to think, the propaganda that fuelled the post-election violence would have fallen on barren ground and withered.
A democracy is, by definition, a marketplace of ideas.
With recent advances in communication, any given ideology, no matter how dubious, spreads like bushfire. We cannot handle these freedoms responsibly unless trained to use our minds to separate the wheat from the chaff.