I’m not certain why this post never got published, but it collected dust in my drafts folder for a few months now. Rather than try to re-capture what I was feeling at the time, I’m just going to publish it as it is, unpolished and all…
The first draft of this post started out sounding like a movie review for “The First Grader” (BBC Films, 2010). That isn’t my intent, so here’s draft two. Maybe I’ll write the reivew someday, but all I really need to say is “Go see it.”
The reason you should see it is, unless you’ve lived in Kenya all your life, and even if you have, you may not realize how big of a deal the concept of free universal primary education has been since implementation by President Kibaki in 2003. Even if you were aware of it, this movie, along with being a heart-warming true story, will drive home the very human effect of such policy.
My wife and I stumbled across the film not too long ago, so it seemed well-timed when not long after, I heard a segment on National Public Radio’s All Things Considered talking about the ongoing challenges associated with this policy. John Burnett, NPR’s correspondent from their Austin National Desk, explained that while the Republic of Kenya fully intends to provide free universal primary education to every boy and girl in Kenya, they just don’t have the budgets to make that a reality. This lack of funds has resulted in a nation-wide shortage of teachers, and often substandard learning conditions for thousands of pupils. This, in turn, is resulting in many families being asked for fees to cover local needs that the Ministry of Education simply hasn’t provided for.
But as I listened to this compelling radio story, I thought back to the film, and wondered to myself, “Yes, it is a bad thing that poor children still find obstacles in their way as they seek something I take for granted: the ability to read, write, and express or articulate myself intelligently. However, considering the national policy is less than a decade old, should we really consider it as a crisis?”
The United States has had free primary schools available in every state since 1870 (Paul Monroe, A cyclopedia of education, 4 vol., 1911)., yet the fact that some schools continue to be well below the minimum standards plagues that system 158 years later! Surely some level of patience an perserverance is needed. Few national policies spring forth from the lawmakers flawless and fully ready for successful implementation. I venture to guess none of them do. In the Army, we joked that “no plan survived the first ten minutes of contact with the enemy,” yet we always took the time to make plans for multiple contingencies. Why? because we knew the desired outcome, and so long as we kept that focus, we could adjust the plan to deal with the unexpected obstacles encountered during implementation.
So what’s my point? My point is that I only had the perspective I had when I heard that NPR story because I had happened to see a movie on the same topic a few days prior. I think it’s safe to say that many listeners to the show have never seen that movie, never read about Kenya’s educational reforms, or even read about Kenya for that matter.