School in general
The day before start of term my stomach would be churning. Weirdly, I look back at those primo years and realise that they were ‘just’ eight. Okey, 8 years are a long time for kiddos, but when you grow up 8 years can just fly by. Primo term-time seemed to have lasted for a whole century whereas the holidays flew by like Concorde. Before start of term there would be the inevitable trip to the hair salon – aarggh I hated going. Those mathe’s at the salon were always unsympathetic to the tangles of afro hair. Back in the day hakukuwa na mambo ya detangling conditioners, leave-in conditioner, hair lotion, mousse, and every other contraption that women use today. Those mathe’s could easily maliza someone’s scalp, the way they just pulled at the hair when they were plaiting it like people in tug-o’-war. Kulikuwa na “banana” style, “pineapple” style, or just plain lines; after some maendeleo they started a style with a mock side-fringe-thing at the front – yani the chicks who had it were considered the bomb-diggity).
Remember exercise books? Aah I wonder if they are still used in Kenya. We were ordered to “cover” them in brown paper (cover them from what? What maridadi is required for an exercise book?). For maths they were square-ruled, and for other subjects they were plain-ruled. If you had fikad sijui std. 5 or 6 you could supplement your maths book with a separate graph-book sellotaped on. In that graph book went trigonometry – karibu they teach us calculus in std. 5!
I hated Home Science, more so when I went to seco. Yes, I can see the benefits of teaching kids how to saw, but did we really need to saw shirts, skirts, shorts, pyjamas, lap-bags (mambo gani hayo? What is the purpose of a lap bag exactly?), knit sweaters, scarves, embroider vitambaa… The only one we didn’t learn was crotchet. To this day I still think that they should have added crotchet, which remains a mystery to me (how is it that a single needle produce those vitambaa?), and in fact the way European fashion goes crocheted garments can be very de rigueur. If I could crotchet I could sit watching TV and crocheting like mathe’s used to do in the ‘80’s.
Kumbuka agriculture? Yes, ours is an agricultural country, so I can see why agriculture was an important part of the curriculum, but sometimes it seemed as if we were just being used as farm labourers. In seco we had to arrive with jembes/pangas, we were given “plots” to cultivate, and when the produce was ready we had to harvest it, but when it came to eating of the good of our own sweat wapi? And when it came to claiming your jembe after you cleared 4th, wapi? Neither the produce nor the implements were retrieved. I bet the teachays distributed the maize, beans, potatoes, and fork-jembes amongst themselves (“Mr Mkulima teacher we need to eat githeri in our house, when are your students harvesting the maize?”)
What I pendad about school was the learning; I liked the no-nonsense syllabi, sio kama Europe/US schools where they don’t learn the stuff we learnt in primo/seco until their BSc’s. School in ‘80’s Kenya was intellectually rigorous, and we didn’t even have calculators (wazunyes use calculators even in primo!). Hakuna mambo ya calculator in Kenya, we used log tables or paper/pencil. I loved mathavu (maths), and we had a teacher who practically hyperventilated as he taught maths ‘cause he was so excited about the subject.
We weren’t just taught stuff by rote. If it was CRE, there was conk theology in there, if it was English it included linguistics/syntactics, if it was physics karibu you construct a spaceship for 4th year, if it was bio then you were well equipped to attempt experimental genetics (am I mistaken or were some Kenyan students reportedly pioneering a cloning experiment back when it was unheard of?). The only thing I would say about the Kenyan edu system then is that it lacked variety (students shouldn’t be forced to take subjects they don’t want to take in high school) and the subjects were just too many. Even now there is still hullabaloo about which school topped the KCSE/KCPE league tables, and students are under so much pressure to achieve high marks, karibu they jinyonge. We need to re-evaluate the pressure which students are put under, ‘cause learning should be a positive, enjoyable thing, sio kitu people do with gritted teeth.