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Low marks did not blur his vision to excel in life

By Benjamin Obegi | Apr 1st 2015 | 4 min read
From 209 marks in KCPE to university    [ PHOTO BY STANDARD]

Kisii, Kenya: The Kenyan education system, which is known to place a high premium on high grades, can either nurture or crush dreams.

In most cases, the system has been blamed for condemning those who score low marks hence failing to give a chance to millions who might wish to dream beyond the current mark.

Under the country’s normal education cycle, Christopher Okemwa, 19, could have joined thousands of primary school dropouts to pass time in the village or waste himself on cheap illicit brews. This is because Okemwa, who comes from Nyamache in Kisii County, scored only 209 out of a possible 500 marks in the Kenya Certificate of Primary Education exams in 2010.

Yesterday’s missteps need not make the footsteps of today, was how Christopher reassured himself. His low grade was not going to consign him to the idleness and lack of vision he saw among school dropouts in the village. He was going to do something about it.

So he went ahead and joined St Peter’s Emenwa Secondary School. Many considered this a mere ritual to while away four years and grow in stature to return to society with an even lower score to join the menial jobs market.

But Christopher proved them wrong by posting a sterling B-plus in the 2014 Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education exams released recently. The grade earned him a slot in any of the public universities.

Christopher decided to turn his entry into secondary school into a golden opportunity to correct his past and firmly take charge of his destiny.

soldiered on

“I was not destined to get low marks. I braved a lot of struggle during my primary school education. My parents were unable to raise a sufficient income from our small farm. At one time, they persuaded me to drop out of school and look for a motorcycle to generate an income fast. But I soldiered on. The 209 marks were low but I convinced myself that maybe a day school would give me a second chance,” says Christopher.

“On my first day in secondary school, I decided to do my best. But first, I made it a point to forget the 209 marks. Although I was in a day school, in my heart I considered it one of the national schools in the country. I told myself that what came out of my four years there would be purely the results of my actions. I also wanted to set a record of being the second one in our extended family to join university. My poor parents were doing menial farm jobs just to give me a bright future. Sometimes I cried when I asked them for money and they showed me an empty purse. Sometimes we slept without eating. I knew the only way to give them hope was to work hard and pass the exams.”

One of the things he aspired to do was remain in the top five positions throughout the four years in school. And he did.

“My teachers were encouraged that I was likely to score well. Also, my grades encouraged those willing to buy me textbooks to go ahead and do it. Sometimes I even received a boost from the Constituency Development Fund.’’

moments of doubt

He expected to do well in the exams but deep inside, the 209 marks from Standard Eight caused him moments of doubt about his Form Four performance.

“I was expecting to pass but my low marks from primary school almost stole my vision. Even my friends told me people with such marks did not pass unless they cheated in the exams. But my mother kept telling me I was going to do well because she believed I had done my best. She only went up to Standard Four but her conviction added a spark to my long wait for the results.”

His B-plus grade may be his personal joy but it also helped debunk long-held myths, at least in his village. That when you do not perform well, it means you have no brain and that you can only go into the boda boda business. And that such a ‘failure’ only joins secondary school to pass time and wait to qualify for a national identity card.

Christopher’s success means others with big dreams can take advantage of their second chances. And like him, they can see those dreams become a reality.

For now, Christopher has chosen teaching as a career and hopes to join the University of Nairobi to pursue his dream.

“I want to come back to this school and teach. I want to tell my fellow villagers that with discipline, focus, avid reading and respect for teachers, one can achieve success.”

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