Every evening, a group of school kids happily chatting as they walk home from school carrying stuffed backpacks full of homework that they probably won’t finish is a common sight in Kenya. You notice their hopeful faces, bearing the drudgery of day long classes and mountains of homework for the promise of a better tomorrow. Managing to squeeze in a bit of their childhood with a quick game as they walk home. Because as soon they get home, their well meaning parents will march them to shower and immediately start on their homework as they sip some tea while awaiting dinner. The cycle of systemic Education.
The number of brown envelop holders in a bus on a typical weekday morning would make you think you missed a memo. Tarmacking, the infamous Kenyan term for the endless hours spent hitting the road looking for a job, is the norm. The glorious reward of a tumultuous journey through an education system that leaves most more fatigued than learned. Where you spend most of your time struggling to stay awake and rushing to complete assignments last minute. Or go into full blown panic in forth year when you realize that your time is almost up and the great scary outside world awaits.
Recently, on the social media streets in Kenya, a video on the education system in Finland was doing the rounds. I’m pretty sure the embassy of Finland’s website got quite a few hits during that period because many were in awe of their schooling system. Schools in Finland are standardized and kids from all walks of life go the same schools. Coming from a Kenyan society where some animals are more equal than other, this approach to education spoke to many of our underlying dreams and wishes about schooling. School was dreaded. No need to sugar coat it. It was that necessary evil that you had to soldier through to have a chance at making a life for yourself. If you’re lucky.
Education is important. Young minds need to be nurtured and steered towards their best selves. However, the education system remains as a manual that is enforced upon our young ones to instill regulations and ordinances that promote the status quo and the powers that be. The same education designed by colonialists to create work drones that follow rules, is still served to us with a cherry on top to make it more palatable. Is it any wonder that parents who can afford to take their children to the alternate system in the international schools do so in a heartbeat?
However, my heart bleeds for the kid born without the silver spoon. Who goes to school everyday promising themselves that as soon as they finish school they will make something of themselves to help people at home. The kid who pays their dues and ticks every box unaware that it will all amount to futility.
Yes I know that it is not all doom and gloom and people found a way to realign themselves and flourish. But at what cost? How long do we intend to keep this gamble going? How long do we feed our children book loads of information that will render them redundant before they even have a chance to be relevant? The statistics of sad jobless youth are staggering.
We who can see the glaring hole are only beginning to slowly but surely climb out of the haze and create the lives we dream of. How long then, will we ignore the systemic disadvantage we accord most kids? As we align ourselves with the increasingly digital world and reposition ourselves to take advantage of the opportunities accorded to us by the global village economy, how many others will manage to reap from the benefits of this emancipation?
Africa is caught up in a unique mess where the liberation from colonialists did not come with a deliberate drive for a mental shift. We may be free from foreign rule but we are not free to think of our future prosperity. We feel that our prosperity is hinged at the hips with that of our former oppressors. Joining the global race for resources and dominance with haste instead of sitting back to strategize is where start to fall short. Planning before leaning in will propel us to be the force that we can be.
Instead of sitting back and pointing fingers, we can do something, One baby step after another and a journey of 1,000 miles will soon be behind us. In the same way we entirely bypassed the land line era and jumped straight into mobile phones, is the same way we need to readjust our thinking to move past the trajectories that the developed world used to get to where they are. As the world starts to move away from globalization according to the Deutsche Bank, maybe it’s time we make Africanization a thing. Define our own growth trajectory. We are without a doubt a passionate, enterprising and different type of people so why not pan out our own identity and future?
When I look at the speed of iteration and technological advancements in the developed world, I can’t hep but be excited by the possibilities that lie ahead. But when you try to apply the same set of products to an ecosystem vastly different from the place of origin, it is bound to meet its’ fair share of bumps. We face a recolonization by “development agenda” if we do not stand and pause in the flurry of activity and heightened attention towards Africa.
Lately I have been listening to Jordan Peterson, a Canadian clinical psychologist and professor of psychology at the University of Toronto. He has interesting theories about human psychology and among the many things I learnt from him, one rings true to this discussion. He says that one truly becomes an adult when you realize that no one knows the best trajectory for your life apart from you. A scary thought, because none really wants the weight of that responsibility. But in my opinion, a liberating one because then, you fully control the compass of your life.
The reigns of our future are in our minds. We need to believe that we can be better and that we can define what better means to us. We can borrow the best practices and learn from those that went ahead of us but not necessarily follow their footsteps. The battle is and has always been in the mind. So this is why it pains me that we have an education system that serves to numb the very brain that is our chance at salvation. However, the liberation has began. The internet and digital revolution is the hope for our minds. It evens the playing field ever so slightly that with the right help, mindset and strategy, the only direction we can move is forward.