Reflections: Clearing high school in the 90s

It is a cold mid-month day in the last quarter of 1998.

To be exact, it is the twelfth day of November. A slight drizzle sprinkles on the already wet earth, and gently falls on the evergreen grass and on the trimmed flowers around the buildings.

Yours truly walks down the steps of Elgon Dormitory. I take the route that goes under the huge Podo tree, then detours past a rock in between the dining hall and Form One East.

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A few minutes later, I walk out of the gate for the last time in uniform. The four-year journey has finally come to an end after sitting the History paper in the Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education (KCSE) exam.

Outside the gate, on the earth road, several people walk or ride their bicycles to and from Lugulu market. I turn back, adjust the bag on my back, and with a saddened reckoning, read the words on the gate, “LUGULU AC SECONDARY SCHOOL.”

Stung by solitude

It is a story of goodbye that sits heavy on the mind. So I walk into the world outside – a student no more – at least for some time. There are two or three other students who have just walked out of the gate but each is lost in a world of their own.

They too walk in the drizzle towards the market centre, adding to the numbers on the road, but numbed more by their loneliness than by the cold. They now seem to know that even in the middle of a crowd; one can still be stung by solitude.

As they walk towards the market, they also know that it is going to be a long wait before knowing what their examination results.

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Several days earlier, it had appeared an enticing prospect, this leaving of school with its punishments, rationed meals, and the cold of five o’clock morning preps.

But beyond the school’s gate, the promise of freedom was not consoling anymore.

The two eternal years before making the next education move had to be lived through. If you were brought up in the village and was not lucky to have a relative in town to visit, you woke up to the routine: did farm work in the morning, took livestock to the grazing fields later in the afternoon and strolled to a friend’s in the evening.

For those who were inclined to reading, this was the long wait during which they would read anything, from The Acts of the Apostles, to Wibur Smith and Sydney Sheldon.

Reading wildly and widely helped to whirl away the time. For the town bred, there was always a construction site around to keep them busy.

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It was also during this time that many discovered that they had a talent in business, and several of them went on to take this route as their lifetime undertaking regardless of their performance in the examinations.

Most importantly, after school, one was expected to fund their own budgets even if it meant working as a manual labourer in somebody’s farm.

You did not expect another person to buy you a pair of jeans, or Bata saddles, or a modest digital watch. You also would not rely on anyone else to acquire the latest “walkman” stereo player in the market.

Things have changed. If you sat KCSE exam this year, you are about to receive your results at the press of a button on a mobile phone. These gadgets were not there in our time.

The only interaction the pre-millennium Form Four leaver had with a telephone was through a booth stationed outside the post office. Here, they would helplessly wait for a clear line as the hard-earned coins they had dropped in scrambled into the depth of the call box and disconnected the call.

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If you are in the new crop, you will be able to apply for college and university courses through the same mobile phone, and a few weeks later, it shall dutifully relay the results to you.

In the past, there were cold hardcopy forms to be filled manually in own handwriting, then mailed to Nairobi, or some other such place via the post office.  

As the country grapples with the all-important debate on whether the short time between completion of KCSE examination and the announcement of results allows for moderation of  performance, the message to those who sat the examination is simple: you live in progressive times if you do not have to wait for three and a half months before getting your results.

Again, these are not very bad times you live in, if you do not have to anxiously wait for two years before joining university or college.

Just ask those who came before you, the long wait was not easy.

Dr. Wesonga is a lecturer at the University of Kabianga – Kericho [email protected]

KCSEKenya Certificate of Secondary Education