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.