An Education?


In Uganda, most educated people on average go through sixteen years – nearly two decades- of schooling. I went through about eighteen myself (counting kindergarten and that inconsequential year in ‘pre-primary’ – WTF?) and sometimes I sit and marvel at the uselessness of it all.

What have I learned, really, that helps me navigate through the shit that life/ gainful employment/ daughterhood/ girlfriendhood throws at me on a daily? From school – very, very little. I mostly get by with quick thinking, shrewdness, humour, alcohol, spirituality and gracious parents and friends.

I’m not saying school is inconsequential. Without it, I might not have learned languages, for instance, which are quite helpful for flirting and getting my way 🙂 I wouldn’t have learned to read as well as I can; although thinking about it, I am mostly a self-taught reader and, if anything, my teachers tried to stifle me with 100-word Peter & Jane books while my latest Enid Blyton lay ignored in my schoolbag.

School for me provided the tools (brains to pick, libraries, computers) with which I stoked my curiosity for knowledge about the world. As for the syllabi themselves – rubbish mostly. Take History for example: why oh why does a Ugandan child in 21st century Africa need to know about Metternich (sp? it’s been a while) or the bloody Crimean war? And not just know them, mind, but cram them and love them well enough to score an A on their final exams?!

Why do we need to learn about the alliteration and onomatopeia in Robert Frost’s poetry, when many of us have never heard of or read our own Okot p’Bitek or Doreen Baingana or Monica Arac de Nyeko? I realise that school is not the only teacher in our lives, but Ugandan schools, which have had the same A level syllabus for the last 10 years, are really just an assembly line of empty-headed unthinking cramming machines.

And don’t even get me started on the particular high school I attended and its stern colonial ban on vernacular! We actually were not allowed to speak Luganda/Rukiga/ slang, etc (anything that was not english or french) ever, except on Saturday from 10 a.m to 4 p.m, if memory serves. I am not kidding. The punishment for any offender with this horrible horrible inclination to speak their mother-tongue outside of regulated hours was a large “speech-offender” banner worn around the neck. Much like a noose.

Whoever said, “do not let your schooling get in the way of your education” needs to come to this country and say it again for all to hear.


9 responses »

  1. Eh, ate you are eating into my themes? 😀

    It was Mark Twain who said that. “Never let your schooling get in the way of your education.” Or the like. Then again, the fucker created Huck Finn, so he should know. 😀
    I like Frank Zappa’s, better: Get out of school while you still can. Before you turn into a stupid … thing, like your parents!

    Meanwhile, you can bet you didn’t learn the correct plural of “syllabus” from school. They never needed to talk of syllabi in plural, for lack of a wide-enough breadth. Ringing indictment.

    You didn’t do university? You evil rebel! You will be a failure in life, etc, etc! 😀 But seriously, the eighteen years sounds suspiciously anti-University.

  2. Oh, wait. You did university. I was counting wrong. Hmm. I didn’t. But I don’t regret. In fact, I kind of get gripped by a certain species of fear, whenever I think that I could have been three more years in school!

  3. KPS and Namagunga? Still the best of Ug. Not entirely worth sneering at. 🙂

    I’ve been in school 18 years, and I haven’t graduated. So 18 still sounds suspiciously anti-University to me. Lol.

  4. Princess, right on the money! I suppose I could have been less obvious … They are the best in terms of “academic excellence” (we know what that means in Uganda!)- as for what they do to your mind and soul *shudder* 🙂
    Now for you doubters, my years work out as 7 in primary, 6 in high school, 1 year of general loafing and 4 years of Uni.

    27th: I should have quoted Frank Zappa, instead! I’m glad you don’t regret not going to uni, you seem to be doing alright 🙂
    Oddly enough I want to give a few more years of my life to more academia – something fun, like languages

  5. Do they have kama sutra on the syllabus? syllabi…ah, that word that 27th typed.
    And the stuff that’s earning me bread i learnt from the times i was outta class…School was that thing our parents send us to so that they get some more baby-making(and other things-making) time

  6. Sleek, I’m told in some of these Indian schools (the Lohanas and Aga khans) kama sutra is in fact on the syllabus, from p.4 upwards

  7. Hi, I know it is way too late for this but WTF? I am a teacher(!), so it is with a heavy heart that I read this, your post. C’mon all those schooling years and you couldn’t figure out the intricasies of the Education process? Bloom’s taxonomy (cliché in education circles) of education spells out the inherent importancies of any object of study. Please, google it, I beg my dear one. Not enough time, well we got enough space. Here is the link

    I didnot do European History myself, luckily reading art history at Uni. later helped me understand or in Bloomspeak, see the relationships, between materials, time, space ét al. That Crimean war or that Metternich fella shaped the history of present day Europe. A learner who fully appreciates those relationships between technology, geo-poltical menage-a-trois n’ebigenderako can easily wrap their heads around the clash of civilisations that is West versus Arabia or alshabab bombing Kyadondo Rugby grounds.

    Given, there is such a thing as knowledge explosion or as you would put it, knowledge rot, the European development model- how the Dutch dealt with flooding in O-level Geography- and I could concur with you on that. Surely there are newer development models we could relate to like the Gramen bank (sic) microfinance model from Bangladesh or the red dragon that is China. It is either naivé or unfair to say that Uganda’s education system is impotent.

    One last shot. The way you organise your thoughts in your writing is awesome, and my dear one that is a product of that rote learning those ‘colonialists’ gave you. Of course there is room for improvement, it is the blankent dismisal of the Ugandan education system that got me started.

    P.S: Please read that wiki article. Going to blog about it, the debate is going to continue, I hope.

    • Hello! It’s not too late to contribute to discussion, and I appreciate a point of view from an ‘insider’. I must read that Wiki link before I can respond to you, and I look forward to reading your blog!

  8. Pingback: The Mis-educaton of the Ugandan psyche.. | AGAWALAGGANA MU NKOLA

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