Are we ready for khat classes?

Allow me to wade into the discussion on the teaching of khat in vernacular schools. I am not a politician, merely a concerned parent with a young daughter at a vernacular school. I unequivocally embrace multiculturalism, and would like to comment on the issue at hand.

I encourage and support the learning of languages, including their scripts. Education in any form is only for the betterment of individuals. Having said that, it is important to dissect two issues from my statement with caveats.

Firstly, education is meant to empower a person. Caution must be drawn to the fact that it should not be used to indoctrinate others with narrow agendas or religious purposes. Fears of religious teachings creeping in must be dispelled by the authorities with forceful statements and guarantees.

The missionary schools of the past did not dilute the faiths of our forefathers; the same can be said about vernacular schools. It should not encroach into religious matters, now or ever. Matters of faith should remain personal matters, divorced from the public arena.

Secondly, in an increasingly borderless world, the adoption of additional languages and scripts should and must be encouraged and supported. Embracing an additional language or its script only provides an additional advantage, which is the core reason for my assent.

At the same time, the teaching of mother tongue languages must be allowed to continue unhindered and unchallenged, failing which it would be hypocritical of critics from either side to have one over the other.

It was in this spirit of reciprocity that our country’s foundations were laid. This was cast in stone in our constitution, and must be continuously reinforced and strengthened with the seeds for this sown in schools.

From media reports, it can be surmised that there have been suspicions and mistrust over the past months, leading to calls for gatherings and counter-gatherings. It does not help that the same tactics were employed decades ago by the same handful of players at the helm.

Central to my argument is whether the practicalities of implementing khat lessons have been thoroughly examined by the authorities. My poor girl is already struggling with the existing core subjects at school, with her schedule stretched beyond belief.

Teachers are also drowning in the heavy workload, and all this at the expense of quality teaching. They try to zip through the curriculum without any focus on critical thinking or personal touch. The same advice dispensed on her report card every year is that my girl has to be sent for private tuition if she wants to improve. Where then do we find the time to focus on quality education?

This begs the question of whether the existing curriculum can accommodate an additional subject. Additionally, are there sufficient facilities, teachers, materials, funds and other such resources to ensure its success?

Has the education ministry done its duty in conducting a proper study on whether the current curriculum can squeeze an additional subject into its already-tight schedule? Will it further dilute the quality of education for other subjects? Our country already seems to be languishing in this regard. And, importantly, has data on all of the above been properly collated, documented and disseminated to all stakeholders? Personally, I am still looking for answers.

Data and facts must be properly tabled for analysis. In my opinion, the objections to introducing khat at this stage are coloured by prejudice and mistrust.

Without a proper examination or analysis, it would be premature to even contemplate gatherings or counter-gatherings. There is also the possibility that strongly worded resolutions will be passed, which would invite an opposite and equally strong response. It does not reflect well on us as the elders to quarrel and to be uncouth to others in the eyes of the younger generation.

Taking the middle ground, I believe that the teaching of khat should not be outrightly rejected. Efforts must be made to understand the intended learning outcomes and the means by which they will be achieved.

Have we achieved our objectives with regard to current education policies? Will the introduction of khat help us achieve the objectives necessary for nation-building?

And are we, as parents and administrators, ready for it?

Jimmy L is an FMT reader.

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.