The point of enduring the school system as initially sold to us was to make us better human beings, dispel our barbarism and equip us with life skills. But even more interesting is how committed it was, still is to stratify us. In academia spaces you’ll hear words like: Honours. Degree. Masters. It’s very method of measuring excellence is classed. Distinction. Credit. Pass. First Class. Second Class Upper. In fact, there has always a negative comment about not being learned. From the car-ride-to-school conversations with our parents about how if we didn’t study hard we’d end up like those unintelligent people(insert the informal sector); to the average taxi passenger’s jab at a boda boda rider who the car just narrowly missed: “ekizibu teb’asoma!”
To escape all those comparisons and of course “get jobs,” we struggle to attain this education – understandably so. Any remotely ambitious person wants to achieve better than the average one. Parents spend millions of shillings to put their children through missionary founded schools (we consider those to be the best in the country), young people apply for scholarships abroad (because that always makes one smarter – or does it?) and working corporates; 4 kids later and a deteriorating eyesight enroll into postgraduate programs whose study notes are on website portals they can barely navigate. They’re determined to compete with kids 15 years younger just so that they too can be able to compete favorably in the job market.
And who would blame them? In our society, a high class education is the pass code to not just favorable employment opportunities, but also social standing and even a chance at a sought after leadership position. Take for example, we have often insisted that certain Parliamentarians don’t deserve to be in the August House because of inadequate school papers. We hold expensive by-elections just to make sure those leaders are ousted. In the past, political opponents have even fabricated evidence against the other knowing well that that is not only grounds for dismissal as per the law, but also a narrative that brings their leadership abilities to question among voters. Except it is hard to argue that the Onesmus Twinamatsikos of this world have done a better job at legislation than their uneducated counterparts with common sense. It is especially a struggle to make a case for school educated leaders when 65+ year old members of cabinet who continue to pursue government sponsored (read: our taxes) education abroad which innovative youth could have better use for; return only know to wear ill-fitting jackets to state functions, take naps during budget readings and embezzle funds.
Now of course the teb’asoma comment is easier made about boda boda riders. They exhibit all the behaviour we consider uncouth, they are part of the informal sector and do not speak the coloniser’s language as well as we do, if at all. Don’t behave like a boda guy! We exclaim. Surely someone who attained this classroom education would not be very reckless and unreasonable on the road to the point of riding straight into the direction of a moving car. But how then do we explain similar behaviour when it’s by government owned 4 wheel drives and the Mercedes Benz cars with classy, suited Old Boys of Kings College Budo behind the wheel? When these cars mount pavements and close up the space between them and the next car in standstill traffic so that a pedestrian won’t go through; what do you make of that?
When you open your social media apps and find an appallingly vapid post or reply from a user who has is an Ivy League alumnus, do you wonder if these are the people your parents warned you would become? But surely they studied harder than you did and got good grades. Through which cracks then, did the myopia reach them? A few young men from the ghetto today are creating conscious and educative music with barely any funding, exposure or connections. How is it then that their educated counterparts – who park their cars, take elevators to air-conditioned boardrooms and order on Jumia food come up with level 1 harmful stereotype content for promotion.
Maybe we are not the better lot after all. Maybe we are all those things that we look down upon illiterate people for. Because when I walk downtown and a taxi tout attempts to grab me; are they any different from a CEO whose disgusting forefinger traces my palm during a handshake? Perhaps the ability to think critically, apply empathy, learn, be socially conscious and have basic human decency is the education we should have prioritised from the onset. Because from where I stand, the ability to argue to what extent Napoleon was right or wrong at Waterloo; or enrolling for the PhD program doesn’t seem to have tackled our primitivism one bit. While we were so busy participating in the contest for the highest academic credentials, the innate monster within us grew untamed.