A few weeks back the cabinet secretary for Education, Prof. Jacob Kaimenyi, mentioned that he was concerned over the upsurge in cases of cheating in public universities and gave a directive to all university heads to take action and prevent such cases from spiraling out of control. That statement drove me to reminisce over my days in campus and how I witnessed even seemingly good students fall into that culture of copying and cheating.
Now, I need to mention that I schooled in a provincial high school in the heart of Meru. It was a good school by any standards but it did not stop me from regretting not having made it to a National school which always managed to remain at the top ten in national examinations. Our high school teachers always told us stories of how students in those national schools worked hard and had an ingrained culture of passing examinations and insisted that, if at all we were serious about our education, we should aim to be at least as good as a fraction of what those students were.
We did aim, and it got us to the only university in Kenya with the article ‘the’. It was a dream come true, I tell you. I relished the opportunity to mingle with the brightest brains in the country and some of them got to be my friends. We were going to share classes, halls of residence, eat the same food and share the same lecturers. I was now going to rub shoulders with those students that my high school teachers advised me to look up to.
I had such high expectations of them but when it got to examination time, lo and behold! The golden pheasant jumped hungrily to fill his tummy just like the commonest of birds, as the fable goes. I was scandalized. I am not saying that all of them engaged in copying or cheating but a good number did. I vividly remember a group of five comrades who came from the same national school. They had devised a clever way of copying. Each member of the gang had to study to perfection a given topic or number of topics, then during exam time he would be the authority in that topic and it was his responsibility to ensure that every other member of the gang benefited from his wealth of knowledge. They stopped just short of writing on each other’s scripts.
Some of the comrades from little known schools also copied but the point is I expected better from comrades who went to schools that I had always dreamed of joining. It is at that moment that I gave thanks for my schooling and banished all regrets I had of not having joined a national school from my mind. That is when I came to understand that the most important thing in a man’s life is not his educational background, but his values.
This obsession with grades makes students do everything in their power to pass examinations. Few people seem to have qualms of conscience over how such grades are obtained. Scraping ranking of schools gives educators a chance to teach some good values to their students instead of spending the entire curriculum time teaching them how to obtain a good grade. Of what use to society is a dishonest lawyer, a foul-mouthed C.E.O., a crafty engineer or a greedy doctor?
It has been said severally that corruption is the evil that ails our country. It is an evil that is sown in our young children even without our realizing. A father who buys leaked examination papers so that his children could pass national examinations with flying colors is not helping to mold his children into responsible citizens. The end never justifies the means. But if those same children worked their sweat out and got a grade ‘B’ they will have learnt the value of hard work, industriousness and honesty, in short, values which will enable them to eke out an honest living and live in harmony with the rest of mankind.
Remember that a student who cheats in examinations does so because he can. In other words it is within his ability to cheat provided he does not get caught. A student cannot embezzle billions from a company. It is far-fetched. However if the same student manages to get a good grade through his cheating, gets a good job in a blue-chip company as a result, rises through the ranks to an AIE (authority to incur expenditure) holder position, what will stop him from stealing the company’s funds provided he does not get caught? He is now able to steal from public coffers because it is within his reach. This journey begins in the classroom.
As we keep complaining about corruption we also need to ask ourselves questions. The people who were appointed or elected to such positions, are they men and women with good values? When we cast our vote for a man who has a litany of corruption scandals hanging around his neck, do we seriously think he will all of a sudden care about our interests? Can a fig tree produce grapes? Or can a vine give us coconuts? Good trees yield good fruit and bad trees yield bad fruit.
Our society needs to undergo a total overhaul of what defines us. If the comrades I witnessed cheating or copying are put in positions of leadership, then there is no hope for our country. The same old song of ‘these are the leaders of tomorrow’ is not a song of hope anymore but a sad song. If we don’t teach good values in our schools and instead focus on top grades, we create a ‘man-eat-man’ society. The corruption scandals that routinely hit our TV screens will be continue to be the norm of the day.
A famous dictum states, ‘be the change you want to see in the world.’ People without good values do not blaze a trail. The structures they leave behind are houses of cards. On the other hand, men and women with good values leave behind cathedrals for the present world and for posterity. Robert Schuman, the father of Europe, Mother Theresa of Calcutta, Cory Aquino, Pyotr Stolypin all blazed a trail. What of Hitler, Mobutu Seseseko, Nietzsche? All they left were ruined societies! Values maketh man!