Are we Pursuing Education or Schooling?

We all eavesdrop once in a while and the same happened to me a week ago. I tapped a conversation my children were having with their cousins and by the time they were done, I was shell shocked about where our schools in Uganda are heading.

For us at our school, our teacher said that if you don’t score 95% and above you can never become a doctor,” said one of the boys.

At our School, when you reach Primary Seven, you must be in the boarding section and you don’t get holidays. You study throughout the year and do tests every two days,” said another.

When you get 70% and below, the teachers cain you because they want us to score 93% and above only,” he continued.

Later, I witnessed them play a motor racing game on the iPad and one of these nephews of mine (who happens to be an A Grade student at his school) complained midway his game upon realising that he wasn’t going to win. “I am not going to win this game, can I start again?” he lamented.

Schooling is derived from the term School which is defined as “an organisation that provides instruction” according to the Merriam Webster dictionary. The same dictionary goes ahead to define Schooling as, “teaching that is done in a school.

On the other hand, I found this definition of education quite befitting; The bringing up, as of a child, instruction; formation of manners. Education comprehends all that series of instruction and discipline which is intended to enlighten the understanding, correct the temper, and form the manners and habits of youth, and fit them for usefulness in their future stations. To give children a good education in manners, arts and science, is important; to give them a religious education is indispensable; and an immense responsibility rests on parents and guardians who neglect these duties.”

We spend alot to school our children and this is verified by how much pride many of us parents take in ensuring that our children are in ‘Big Name’ schools. We tend to get trapped by the false belief that their presence in such schools is a guarantee of success.

Darrow Miller in this article states “My reflections led me to a number of conclusions. First, although as a child I had insatiable questions, as I grew older I stopped asking. My schooling did not encourage an inquisitive mind, critical thinking, and creativity; it trained me to memorize and regurgitate what the teacher taught me. My schooling was about facts and figures, rather than understanding and moral formation.” Without doubt, the A Grade students in most Ugandan Schools are definitely those who are good at memorizing facts and figures and regurgitating them. This is reinforced by one of the statements above where the child talks of their school’s Primary Seven candidates doing tests every two days and not going for holiday throughout their candidate year. Essentially the school is manufacturing excellence the way it knows best, cram work.

Miller further shares that, “I realized I did not know how to think. I had never had an original thought! I grew up on comic books (Images with few words). Today many children grow up with video games and TV (even more images and fewer words).Guilty as charged. I am one of those parents that for long used to let the TV and Game Consoles provide entertainment for my children. I know many of you still do so. However, the truth of the matter is that while we may think that we are exposing our kids to modernity, we are also killing their creativity, big time. A few weeks back, we moved house from a beautiful complete self contained residence to our own that still lacks in terms of water and electricity connectivity. One of the worries my children had was with how they would be entertained during this long holiday. Over two weeks into our new home, with no main grid electricity and piped water in the house, the kids have found lots of alternative activities like hiking up the hill, identifying plants and insects in the garden, construction (yes, they did construct a small house using left over bricks and sand. Though it later crumbled, they were quick to realise why and now are demanding cement from me so they can make it more permanent), among others. This has proved to me that creativity in children is real and we need to just give them the right kind of environment. Now, this is Education NOT Schooling.

The conclusion Miller draws is very compelling,The words schooling and education have very different meanings. The former is rooted in a place – a building, a place of leisure both separated from work itself and from the preparation of a person for work. The latter is a process of instruction that prepares the mind with knowledge and understanding, the heart with virtue, and the will with wisdom so that people may be prepared for life and work.”

Are you one of those parents who are all over yourself trying to ensure that your child only gets Distinctions in his exams as a reward for the efforts you put in to educate or school them? Emphasising test scores to tell if a child is attaining a great education misses the point. This is further exacerbated by teachers who impart it into the minds of the children that they need to score above certain marks in order to be looked at as competent.

Without going very far, in Uganda today, we have numerous examples of highly schooled people who have miserably run the nation’s affairs in various dockets. You keep reading of a Doctor so and so with a PHD from Harvard, London School of Economics and the likes messing up national institutions like they never comprehended anything all their years of study. They seem to lack basic wisdom and creativity, something never emphasised in our formal academics today.

When a school like the one these nephews of mine attend emphasises test formats and skills as well as exam drilling you then begin to understand why our nation is where it is today. Many entrepreneurs are usually at a loss when they hire fresh graduates with first class degrees who seem more clueless than a sheep in the middle of a road.

The occasional high stake exams like Primary Leaving Examinations, Uganda Certificate of Education, Uganda Advanced Certificate of Education tend to lure schools into teaching students the “Game of Schooling” as George A Goens the author of Soft Leadership for Hard Times terms it. Students are then led into prioritising passing and not learning; getting short term high grades and not in-depth understanding; building resumes (CVs) and not following their passion. A friend of mine once made a touching presentation to an audience of elderly people and she shared with them how they kill their children’s futures by not allowing them to be. One lady walked up to her after the presentation and confessed that while all her children had taken up ‘respectable’ professions as Engineers, Doctors and Lawyers, they were not making much progress in their careers.

Mark Twain once said, “Don’t let your children’s schooling get in the way of their education.” While taking on a consulting job with an international company a few years back, I was given a test from one of the leading global corporate testing companies. However, by the time I was done with it, I had a lot more to criticise and promptly relayed my sentiments to the recruiter without fear. What business do you have asking a candidate who has grown up in Uganda all their life questions that are ideal for a Wisconsin bred kid?

Schools are emphasising competition more than team spirit yet the latter matters more when it comes to getting work done collectively. Excellence is always equated to how far you separate yourself from the others. This is the mentality the young nephew who was playing the video game has sadly adapted so early in life. Because he is used to being graded Number One in the class, he can’t envisage coming Number Two and always wants to be ahead of the pack. This attitude is likely to affect his ability to be a team player in future. Stories abound of people who were always ahead of the pack during their scholarly days and have failed to make their mark in the professional realm failing to gel or even take leadership at their work places.

Education transcends beyond positioning one to get a good job or achieve that elusive career goal. By appreciating other philosophical perspectives of life like truth, beauty, justice, liberty, equality, honesty among others, we can have educated people with an ‘Ubuntu’ mindset thereby being responsible citizens. An educated person should not only have strong academic skills but also accompany that with the right values and principles.

In Goen’s own words, “Cleverness, cunning and cutting ethical corners are not standards of an educated person. Well-educated people revere knowledge and apply values and principles to guide them as they seek a meaningful life of purpose. They try to make “wise” decisions premised on strong ethical and moral ideals and broad academic understanding. Education is a lifelong process of continuous learning and examination. Being well educated means having a sense of stewardship and a concern for the common good, not simply tending to self-interest and ego needs.”

We want the best for ourselves and our children but do we know how best to enable them or ourselves get there? By using pedestrian approaches like ‘how many first grade students a school produces‘ to judge the quality of a school we are putting the bar too low and playing into the hands of crafty architects of academic results. These skewed demands we make on schools that are forming the foundation for our children are the reason we have less creative thinkers being churned out today and instead we keep seeing more cunning and outrightly self centered individuals coming out of our academic system. Others have sought solace in opting to enrol their children in international schools but they forget that like Ostriches, they are simply burying their heads in the sand.

As we enter 2016, it is my prayer that we critically think though this and come up with corrective measures starting with out core families. As an eternal optimist, I am certain that the situation isn’t beyond salvage. Once again, Don’t Let your Children’s Schooling get in the way of their Education.

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9 responses to “Are we Pursuing Education or Schooling?

  1. Pingback: SMACK, Namilyango, Gayaza, Lubaale Mubbe | The Wire Perspective

  2. Hi.

    Brilliant article. Preaching to the choir in my case. I’d just like to point out that it is exactly because I’d like my children to receive an education that I am taking them – after plenty of soul searching — to an international school.

    Of all the primary schools in Jinja, where I grew up and now live, the only one that offers the type of holistic education I received at Victoria Nile Primary … is the international one.

    I might have missed it, in which case my apologies, but I do wish you’d dwelt a bit more on the role of parents/primary care givers in the daily education of a child.


    • Thanks for your feedback. On the role of parents, I do believe that is another topic that deserves it’s separate due attention since it can be very detailed if one chose to write about it. I’ll consider a separate blog post on that in future.


  3. Hi James, I love your articles. I really do. This particular one reminds me of my university dissertation. My topic was inspired by a movie called 3 Idiots. It’s one of my all time non-action movies. I had to take my topic to 4 different supervisors before one painfully agreed to take it on as is. I agree with you 100%, taking corrective measure (s) is not late. Each of us can do something…


    • I agree. We all have a role to play, however small. Waiting for Government may never yield a thing since they are not known to plan beyond the 5 year term of the ruling party.


  4. Bampigga Stephen

    James I am speechless! This has happened to me first hand. Imagine schooling at Smack for OLevels and then Progressive SS for your HSC.
    It is the same when one does not get that formal posh job we all dreamed to have and only find your self in one of the shops on Luwum street where creativity and survival is the order of the day! This article is a master piece that must be read by our law makers and educationists. Well done brother.


  5. Wow! James, I hope you get one of the dailies to run this article as the year begins! Simply amazing piece!


  6. Reblogged this on Patricia Kahill and commented:
    Food Thought….


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