Why you should spare time and some money for your old school

Thika High School. [Mike Kihaki, Standard]

Last Saturday, I spent the day at my alma mater, Thika High School, where I spent six of my formative years in the 70s and early 80s.

As the cliché goes, this is where a boy entered, but a man left. Most of who I am, especially in terms of values, is courtesy of the experiences, good and bad that I encountered in this institution. 

As I sat and watched the innocent eyes of the 2,000 or so hopeful boys, I recognised that unlike me, they were living in difficult times and unless numerous helping hands joined their parents, guardians and teachers, school life would be daunting.

In the days when my generation were in school, the costs of schooling were largely manageable, and government was a substantive co-funder of all aspects of education.

In the current season, school is expensive, way beyond the reach of many parents striving to eke a living in a depressed economy. To make matters worse, a contracting expenditure commitment by government means that most expenses that were traditionally carried by government are left to parents.

Add to that, policies like 100 per cent transition. For Thika High this policy, mirroring the experience of many schools, increased the student population by hundreds overnight.

This increase was without a corresponding allocation of money to build new classrooms, dormitories, laboratories, dining halls and all the infrastructure that make school manageable.

The pressure on parents to carry these additional costs is unmanageable for many. What has complicated the matter for teachers and managers of schools is the government policy that prohibits students from being sent home for non-payment of school fees meaning headteachers have to increasingly innovate to keep schools running.

Quite apart from the pressure wrought by changing policies and the consequent dearth of funds is the dynamic called single parent children. I am amazed at the explosion in the number of children who are products of single families in many high schools.

I am not sure whether this is a new phenomenon, or I am more aware of it. While I am a great believer that there is no natural deficiency in children brought up in single parent families, I increasingly recognise that this phenomenon raises novel issues, especially for high school teachers who have to deal with teenagers who have not fully resolved key issues about identity, womanhood and manhood.

In the days my generation grew up, even those who had absentee fathers had uncles, older cousins and such relatives who naturally became surrogate fathers and gave children a sense of identity.

Many children in schools like Thika High come from urban areas where the extended family is not easily accessible and these surrogate fathers are therefore not available. I outline these challenges to communicate to a key constituency that is now greatly required in all schools; the old boys and girls particularly of high schools.

For many of us, educating a couple of children every year is the equivalent of a couple of outings we can easily forego. Getting together to put up some much-needed facilities to supplement the schools’ efforts would be lifesaving.

I have seen old boys in Alliance putting up dorms. In Thika High the Class of 96 put up a whole dorm to celebrate their years in the school. One old boy single-handedly upgraded a whole dorm to signify its influence in his life.

Stories abound of efforts of this nature which have been monumental for schools. Other than financial help, these schools are looking for mentors, people who these children can look up to and believe life has chances out there.

A day or two every term, is sufficient and will not make a dent in one’s pursuits. Many of the teachers in many schools are overworked, underpaid and unappreciated.

An occasional celebratory lunch would encourage these long sufferers. Bottom line, there are not many avenues left for schools to play their role in building the boys and girls of the future.

Those of us who were made by these schools need to step in as a matter of recompense, but more importantly, because it is our duty to play a small role in ensuring the next generation will taste the fruits of an abundant life.

-The writer is an advocate of the High Court of Kenya