According to reports this week, as many as seven pupils have committed suicide over “poor” Kenya Certificate of Primary Education (KCPE) examination results that were released at the end of December.Our hearts go out to the families that have lost their children. However, their loss is not all in vain. If this were militant politics, one would have said that the seven pupils are martyrs.
Of course, to commit suicide when you are a teenage is tragic because you are so young, you still have very many years ahead of you to try, try and try again until you succeed. It is a different story if you are 70.
All said, it is a good thing for parents to expect the highest performance from their children. And, one might add, a country where students commit suicide actually has a future. Which is why the KCPE suicides are at the same time a sign of hope.
If you look around Africa, the reason we are in such a mess and remain the poorest continent is precisely because there is little shame over poor work and shoddy service.
We tolerate bad roads. We reconcile easily to atrocious health services. We keep re-electing corrupt and incompetent politicians to lead us – and spend all the time before electing them again at the next poll whining about how bad they are. We grumble mildly at schools and universities that produce mediocre students and don’t innovate. Nothing changes.
So when a student feels the shame of underscoring in an exam and takes his or her life, there is a bit of them that we should celebrate.In fact, this growing demand for high standards was also seen in the parents who attacked headmasters of schools that produced lousy grades. They were taking the law into their hands, yes, but they were inspired by noble motives.
The bigger problem, then, is that the people who should really be taking their lives for failing our countries in serious ways, are not doing so.
Take the Kenya election of December 2007. The dispute led to the death of nearly 1,500 people and the displacement of over 500,000. To this day, no one has actually come forward to take responsibility for the mess. In Japan someone like Samuel Kivuitu, head of the now defunct Electoral Commission of Kenya that organised that election, would have climbed high on the mast at Nation Centre, and jumped.
In Asia, a chief executive officer of a listed company who loses shareholders’ money is expected to lock himself inside his office, and fall on the sword he keeps in the cupboard.
In Kenya and other countries in the region, if you ruin a company, you go and stand as Member of Parliament in the next election. And if the people don’t elect you, if you stood on the ticket of the party that produces the president, he will appoint you ambassador.
Some of the countries with the highest student suicide rates in the world are China and South Korea. In fact South Korea has the highest suicide rate in general in the industrialised world. Suicide is also the leading cause of death of people under 40 in South Korea.
According to a recent CBN News report; “The suicide rate in [South Korea] is so high that it’s now known as the suicide capital of the world. According to the Korean National Police, the number of suicides rose from 12,270 in 2008 to 14,579 in 2009, an almost 20 per cent increase.
“Sociologists say a highly competitive atmosphere, uncertainty over the future, recession and crumbling traditional social networks are to blame for these awful numbers.
“Korea has many stressful things in their lives,” said Korea University Student Eon Ji Kim. “Everyone wants to get effect very quickly. We were raised to be very competitive. As for me it is very hard to overcome competition, fight over everything with everyone”
A recent clutch of global test results showed that Chinese students scored best in science and math, followed by South Korea. Then Finland, and back to Asia with Singapore. After the Singaporeans were Canadian and New Zealander students. Then Japan.
Confirming America’s decline, it was 12th. Africa was nowhere. The conclusion is clear. If you snooze and don’t worry about your test scores, you lose.
@Mr Onyango-Obbo is the Executive Editor of the Nation Media Group’s Africa and Digital Media Division
Published in The Citizen 19th January 2012