The only familiar part that is left of Kabale Preparatory School. Photo Credit: Sam Katwesigye
I recently was having a chat with my Dad via Whatsapp and then he used an emoji – one that fit right in but a face I couldn’t quite imagine him making. So I exclaimed “Someone taught the old man how to use emoji’s” – Then he asked: what are emoji’s? And then I had to explain – and hope that he would understand. He learned by using and exposing himself to WhatsApp. He didn’t go to school for that.
Then I began to think about what is taught today and what isn’t. It has become a song that our education system is not befitting to the kind of people that we are. Hence we end up as graduates suffering from ‘lack of what to do’ as my Father would call it. What we know a lot of things – we pick up trends, fads and anything else that makes us relevant. Are WhatsApp and Twitter on the curriculum – and yet we are all so knowledgeable about these things. Ask a 7 year old. The other day I was chatting with my 10 year old cousin-nephew on Facebook. [You know how it is with family around here] What was I doing at that age? – In a heartbeat they teach you how your phone works. They will find the games and play while you are looking on. But these skills are not taught in class – they have just acquired through exposure. Experiential teaching is not something that we see today – nor was it there back when I was in school.
While in school there were textbooks alright but there were also encyclopedias that were at our disposal. And often times after reading the teachers notes and reading the textbooks – we did not need the encyclopedia. But today the kind of knowledge that you need is what you will find in an encyclopedia. To be able to understand philosophy and region: Why Boko Haram exists and what extremism is all about – you would need the background knowledge that one could find in an encyclopedia. To be able to understand, slavery, slave trade and colonization – and their link to capitalism and who Africa is today – that is not stuff that one would find in a text book. But the encyclopedias had these things. For some reason – the secondary school I went to had them. They were huge and occupied a lot of space in the library shelves – I did not read them. I was more focused on passing exams than understanding the fundamentals and principles. But now like everyone else, I sometimes have to wait for events present, past and the future to be interpreted to by someone else. For most of us it is the media – international and local who we all know have increasingly become a not so objective media plus many other shortcomings. I wish that I had read the encyclopedias – maybe I would be a sort of genius today – very knowledgeable.
Today we are lucky though that there is always Professor Google to help us out. But that only comes with access and affordability of data. This is still a luxury to most who are school going age. But also searching the internet takes a whole lot of patience.
The other meaningful thing that I think that schools could focus on are what we have come to know as life hacks. One that I learned recently was that if you want to get rid of the foul smell in your shoes – what we used to call ‘Carbon’ in school is to put teabags overnight. They absorb all the smell and the next morning – you are good to go. Simple, small things that could save you a lot of time, trouble and money. I think if that narrative had been used in my chemistry class – I would have passed the subject. Very relate-able.
That said, I will not entirely say that the education system failed me because I had an awesome primary school. Work and play were very well balanced. Huge emphasis on reading. Borrow a book from the library, read a book each week and get to write a report about it. That was for P4 to P7. For the lower classes – you had at least 2 reading classes a week, where the teacher read aloud to you. For in term – you completed about 2-3 books. No homework. No Prep. But we excelled. My class of 24 all were in First Grade and we all went to great secondary schools.
And so for me, that part of school laid a great foundation for the kind of person that I am today. And that I am definitely grateful for. That is what I would like to see for my children. While the times have changed – the fundamentals shouldn’t. School should do us better.