Magazine article The Spectator

Real British Education Lives on in Kenya

Magazine article The Spectator

Real British Education Lives on in Kenya

Article excerpt

Driving round Kenya, I 'm constantly struck by the sheer number of schools.

E very 500 yards there's a hand-painted sign advertising the virtues of some 'academy' or other. The truly remarkable thing is that at least 10 per cent boast of teaching the 'British curriculum'.

The reason this is remarkable isn't just because there's no such thing as a 'British curriculum' and hasn't been since responsibility for education policy was devolved to the UK's regional parliaments. There's an E nglish National Curriculum that dates back to the last government, but it's hardly the envy of the world. On the contrary, it's a mishmash of New Labour gobbledegook about 'skills' and 'diversity' and helps explain why our schoolchildren have plummeted in the international league tables.

I 'm 99.9 per cent certain that not a single one of the pupils at these Kenyan schools is learning about Mary Seacole.

But the really striking thing - heartbreaking, really - is that the word 'British' attached to a form of education is still considered a kitemark of quality.

I t's so at odds with reality, it's a little like passing a Kenyan electrical shop boasting of selling 'British televisions'. (Not something I 've seen, obviously. ) How on earth has the reputation of 'British' education survived in Kenya, in spite of the vandalism wreaked on our schools by successive governments since the mid1960s?

The answer, I think, is that the best schools in Kenya are the small, E ng-lish-style prep schools that date back to the colonial era. Schools like Pembroke House in Gilgil, where I 've put my own four children for half a term.

I n these antiquated institutions, which seem to have been preserved in aspic from the 1950s, the ideals of British education have survived, untarnished by state interference.

My four-year-old son Charlie, for instance, who's in pre-prep, is enjoying the kind of experience that in E ngland would only be available to children aged 14 and above. He's allowed to cycle around the extensive school grounds completely unsupervised. He plays hockey, even though the stick is taller than him. He's learning how to ride.

F or the first time in his life, he's being treated as someone capable of making intelligent decisions about his own welfare instead of being swaddled in a health-and-safety blanket. …

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