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Why education losing shine among the youth

OPINION
By XN Iraki | June 26th 2021

Must these young men suffer to see the reality? [Courtesy]

On Monday morning last week, I stopped by the roadside to talk to three schoolboys as they walked home leisurely.

Their school is in the infamous Happy Valley in Nyandarua County. May I not disclose the school’s name? “Why are you going home?” I asked. “Because of slimming.”

That left my head spinning. The three young men looked thin already, why slim. It was about “thinning” trousers, to look like “pipes” or “pencils” - to be modern.

I am told girls do the same with their skirts in addition to shortening them. Like an old fashioned school teacher, I asked them if the math teacher will postpone his topic on simultaneous equations till they return. They said no.

“Get serious young men, the world is waiting for you,” was my parting shot. I looked more concerned than the students.

From the spot where we held our conversation, I could see the pylons built by the Chinese contractors recently. I could see an old colonial house build by a British settler.

I could see the small houses owned by men and women who inherited this land and possibly parents to these boys.

I could see the deforested escarpment with small shambas, a clear indicator there is a shortage of land. The conversation left me thinking. Why should schoolboys focus on their appearance more than books?

What is so special about slimming? What about their tomorrow? Psychologists will quickly add that is expected of adolescence.

Our generation wore moccasins, dyed their hair and spun on the head, breakdancing. I missed bell bottoms. But we had time to focus on what mattered, our school work.

We knew what was stuck against us. What perplexes me is how the next generation has lost seriousness in school when opportunities have shrunk.

More worrisome is that poverty is no longer a motivator in school.

Do you ever see children from private schools idling around? Don’t say they ride the school bus.

These young men will soon leave school and find an economic system way removed from their illusions and utopianism.

They will find a country teeming with joblessness. They will find that formal jobs are rare, and without focus and seriousness, starting an enterprise is not that easy.

Joblessness has spawned a thriving alcohol industry that has hooked mostly young men.

Girls are luckier, they can find small jobs as house helps, cashiers if all else fail. For traditionalists, they can marry and hopefully get cared for. Do young men really understand how the world is stuck against them?

Women are more flexible and willing to hustle. That is why Mama Mboga is better known than Baba Mboga. Kenyan women have been seeking opportunities in Europe, Middle East and the US.

What of men? Must these young men suffer to see the reality?

Don’t they have neighbours and relatives who have been through school before them? What happened to the confidence and aspirations of young men? Why can’t they aspire to be like the British settlers who owned magnificent houses, plantations and airstrips?

Why can’t they aspire to be like the Chinese who have left their country to come and build roads, highways and ports? Why can’t they be like their bold grandparents who faced the Britons in the forest during Mau Mau?

Maybe we have fed the next generation with so much negativity on joblessness and corruption that they have become hopeless and apathetic. Have we failed to inspire them to overcome adversities, to see the bigger picture?

Why should Elon Musk, born in Africa make money from space, launching rockets while men are slimming school trousers?

Do these boys realise that the vicious cycle of poverty can be broken by acquiring rare and marketable skills? I have in mind science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).

The rise of China and other economic powers was based on STEM. Such skills are transferable globally. Where do we go from here?

Anytime I encounter unserious young men, my mind goes back to Jackson, a city in Mississippi, US where I lived in a ghetto for four years. Undergraduate classes in the Historical Black Universities (HBCU) were 62 per cent female (in 2018). I was told men are in jail.

Will the same fate befall our men after school? Can we preempt this situation? Can history be a guide?

The British settlers who came to Kenya were serious men and women, veterans of war. They tamed the land and made fortunes.

I did not say they were not colonialists. They had gone to serious schools like Eton or Oxbridge.

The Chinese working in Kenya make a serious lot too. Noted how they complete their projects on time? Have we allowed our students’ unfettered freedom to “destroy themselves?” I am sure I sound old fashioned. It took discipline to build the British Empire.

It has taken discipline to build the Chinese economic empire.

We need the discipline to achieve Vision 2030. That discipline starts in school. Yet indiscipline is the soft underbelly in our public schooling system.

And it starts from our homes. Parents are finding it hard to discipline their children, it’s against human rights, I am told. Teaching has become one of the hardest jobs, harder than being a police officer.

I fear this indiscipline will usher in an underclass hostile to progress as the rest of the world moves on.

I recall being accused of “acting white” in Mississippi for performing well in school. Have you noted how hard it is to advise or counsel youngsters nowadays?

Opponents of corporal punishment are not in tune with reality. The police are being sucked into students’ indiscipline cases.

Remember our indiscipline students don’t immigrate to Antarctica or Siberia; they remain here, part of our society.

Britain used to export such people to colonies. We have no such colonies unless we send them to Mars or one of the exoplanets.

We largely adopted the US constitution with senators and governors. Shall we adopt Black culture in the Deep South, the culture characterised by religion, empowered women, high teenage pregnancy, joblessness and incarcerated men?

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