Parents' long dilemma as schools reopen

Wilfred Cheheva (right) checks if the shoe fits her daughter Tracy Kaluhi a student at St.Stephano Academy, Kakamega, as parents made the last-minute rush to shop as school reopened. [Michael Mute, Standard]

Schools are finally back to a normal schedule with holidays in April, August and December.

The Covid-19 abnormal school year made us appreciate how our economy and our lives are intertwined with the school calendar.

Coast missed the vibrant August when everyone heads there, from school children to church groups. Even rites of passage were disrupted.

Let’s give credit where it’s due: it was a bold decision by the government to recover the lost time after nine months of closure as Covid-19 raged. It’s one of Prof George Magoha’s lasting legacies. May he rest in peace (RIP).

Let’s leave the operational issues in education and focus on a long-term issue; inter-generational mobility.

Many middle-class parents made it to their current positions through sheer hard work, some citing miracles. They had no role models. They had no sources of information, and they were cheap labour working on farms.

Some wore their first pair of shoes when reporting to Form One. That background was a greater motivator, to leave the drudgery of the countryside.

They worked hard in school without books and struggled with school fees. Bursaries were few. It’s contestable if slum conditions also motivated children to work harder. Those who grew up in the ghetto can share their experience.

A worrying pattern is that children from disadvantaged backgrounds are no longer motivated to excel in school.

Have they found their path to upward mobility so blocked that they have stopped trying?

In the past, up to just before the economy was restructured with liberalisation in the early 1990s, the path to upward mobility was clear.

You passed your exams, got to university and got a job and possibly lived happily thereafter - to quote old stories.

Age of deprivation

Our stories were in the mother tongue and rarely ended that way.

I recall the hyena always on the receiving end and the hare’s cunning. How many children today can share folklore?

The generation that grew up in the age of deprivation is now taking care of its children, who have grown up in plenty, without any drudgery.

Instead of milking a cow, they buy packaged milk, and instead of going to the farm or fishing they have the play station.

Running to school is now replaced by the school bus or family car. Instead of being tutored by peers or older students, they are tutored by hired teachers.

We were worried about malnutrition, and they worry about obesity. We lacked choices, they have too many choices - from where to shop to where to school.

The dilemma of the modern parent is how to pass these old-age values of resilience, hard work and focus to the next generation.

It’s practically impossible to deny your children the privileges of modern life just to teach them a lesson, yet you know how valuable that would be.

A parent ready to pass on those ageless values to children finds largely changed circumstances. The parental authority has competitors, from peers to law and media.

But the fundamentals have not changed.

The old style of hard work, going beyond the call of duty, and becoming responsible are still much sought-after values, both in school and the workplace.

Asian values

In the United States, they are called Protestant work ethic, or Asian values in the East. What did you call them in your community? The word tribe is slowly being retired.

Some parents swing to the far right and give their children a carte blanche (unconditional authority) to do what they want within the law. They can’t deny them what they lacked.

They protect them from irresponsibility. How many middle-class parents allow their kids to take a matatu to school?

How many relieve the house girl when children are now old enough to do house chores? How many demand no tuition at home; the fees is enough to cost. Maybe I am old-fashioned.

Clearly, many parents fear their children could one day slide back to that era when deprivation was the norm.

They are even willing to take shortcuts such as cheating in exams or nepotism in employment. The dilemma goes into succession.

How many parent rest easy that all they have worked for and accumulated will be taken care of, and the next generation will pull through in their absence?

It all boils down to parenting, where one goes through an apprenticeship. How many schools of parenting would break even?

Parenting is more like preparing someone for a long voyage.

Give him or her all the necessities but prepare him or her for the unexpected, from bad weather to bad company or even landing on the wrong shore, like landing in the wrong career or wrong spouse. 

Are you a parent? Gone through such a dilemma or even thoughts? Talk to us.