CBC: Competency in education is more than walking in sacks

Children compete as they jump in sacks. [Courtesy]

Even if you are not Christian, you have possibly heard and liked the lyrics of the “Blessed Assurance” hymn. “Blessed assurance,” it says, “Jesus is mine! Oh what a foretaste of glory divine! Perfect submission, perfect delight! Visions of rapture, now burst on my sight!”

But, if you are not familiar with these lines; their rime and rhythm as they burst into music, you probably know “To God be the Glory.” Yes? “To God be the glory, great things he hath done! So loved he, the world that, he gave us his son!” Combined purpose, rime and rhythm does not get better in performing arts. Nor would you beat the melancholic reflection of “Pass Me Not, oh Gentle Saviour.” 

What you probably didn’t know, even when you are Christian, is that these tantalizing canticles were just part of upwards of 8,000 hymns and gospel songs, written by Fanny Crosby. Also known as Frances Jane van Alstyne, Crosby was discovered to be blind about six weeks after birth in 1820. She remained blind for the rest of her 95 years. 

Visual challenge, however, did not stop this amazing American girl. Nothing could stop her. She is remembered as a poet, composer, lyricist, mission worker and as the Queen of the Gospel Song Writers. That is competence. 

It was Kukubo Barasa, a young man in his mid-twenties, who taught us the meaning of competence, in Chavakali High School, in the mid 1970s. Just recently graduated from Kenyatta College of the University of Nairobi, Kukubo was a delight to stand before you. Two things I carried away when we parted in 1976 – discipline and competence. Of discipline, as the right choice for the right reasons at the right time, I will address some other day. Today, I only address competence.

What is the wider relevance of competence in our tour of duty as literature and liberal education students, graduates and teachers, for example? Competence was what Crosby demonstrated in her artistic works. Simply put, competence is the ability to successfully and efficiently accomplish an assignment in a given area. Yes, it has some conjuncture with handiwork. But it is certainly far, far more than that. To me, as a student of literature, it is the ability to read on my own S.T. Coleridge’s “Rime of the Ancient Mariner” and to apply the meaning of shipwreck to my country.

In Thor Heyerdahl’s The Kon Tiki Expedition, Daniel Dafoe’s Robinson Crusoe, Ballantyne’s Coral Island and Golding’s Lord of the Flies, I have the competence to see mirror images of my stranded country. In the words of Coleridge, I see a country that is “as idle as a painted ship, upon a painted ocean.” I see our lost opportunities: 

Day after day, day after day, 
We stuck nor breath, nor motion, 
As idle as a painted ship,
Upon a painted ocean ...

water, water everywhere, 

nor any drop to drink.

Such is competence in literature. It is about using W.B. Yeats’ “Second Coming” poem to interpret the anarchy around me, the blood-dimmed tide, the drowning of innocence as a mad political class goes for everyone’s throats; like the anarchic boys in Lord of the Flies. Together with my compatriots, we are marooned on a lonely island, at their mercy.

 But literary competence spills over to cover these conflicts and record them for future generations. We carry the lessons for them, to let them know  we were not all mad. We preserve hope. We become eye-witnesses of the kind Luke, the writer of the third Christian gospel, talks about at the opening of his book. Like Luke, others will compile more orderly narratives, based on our work.

Other disciplines, outside literature, have their own relevant competencies. Accordingly, when competency in education is reduced to weaving baskets and walking in sacks, we need to recognize that education is in incompetent hands, and move swiftly to rescue it. 

Dr Barrack Muluka, PhD [Politics & International Relations, Leicester, UK]. Strategic Communications Adviser