Pastoralists Who Plan To Fail

Why would needy African pastoralists deliberately sabotage their educational success? Sounds crazy doesn’t it? Sometimes it’s difficult for those with a Western mindset, where progress and development are valued, to understand that of the rural pastoralist, with attitudes and behaviours that seem so foreign.

Let me illustrate by taking you to one of the districts that Joshua works in as educational professional development providers. We’ve been working there for over two years now, teaching, modelling and mentoring things that are important to us as educators – valuing the child, teaching with an interactive approach, training children how to work in groups, sharing and discussing ideas and opinions. These concepts are revolutionary in these isolated communities and it has been thrilling to see teachers pick up on them and implement them in their classrooms. It’s been even more exciting to see the transformation in schools where students now feel free to express themselves and share their opinions, where learning has become interesting and teachers have become ‘friends’ with kids – rather than stick-brandishing tyrants!

It therefore comes as a shock to see students failing their exams in their last year of school, Standard 7, after a year of good performance. What could be behind this? When we found out we were gob-smacked!! Turns out that just before final national exams, parents sit with their kids and teach them how to fail! Parents instruct them how to read the questions carefully so they can identify the correct answers, then deliberately choose the wrong answer!

These kids are offered their own goat or cow if they fail, ensuring they will then not be able to proceed to secondary school and so be ‘lost’ to the family. After all, if your child goes to secondary school far from home and has to board there, who will look after the animals? And what will happen to the centuries-old lifestyle that traditional families cling to?

This is a huge challenge to educational authorities, who are now asking us if we can extend our work into the communities to help parents see the value of education. What will that look like for us and our work? Not sure! It’s going to be a ‘watch this space’ scenario! We’d love you to pray with us about this!