• March 25th, 2019
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Ramp-up: Be the reader, not a coward


Lawrence Kamwi

I recall a real breaking news item from way back in 2004. Kimani Maruge, who was then eighty-four years of age, had enrolled for his first class at primary school. This followed the Kenyan government’s offer of free primary education.
   Maruge’s story subsequently inspired the film called The First Grader. After also making it into the Guinness Book of World Records as the oldest person to start school, Maruge explained that his main desire was to learn how to read the Bible.

“The preachers mislead the people. That is why I wanted to learn how to read the Bible. I wanted to read it because I wanted to see where it can take me…” 

   I wish to recommend leveraged education or learning, as this week’s take-away. The Business Dictionary defines leverage as “the ability to influence a system, or an environment, in a way that multiplies the outcome of one’s efforts.” In other words, to take maximum advantage of a situation or circumstances. 

Maruge not only knew his need; with age-defying precision, he pounced on the first opportunity which moved him closer to fulfilling it. My thesis is that leveraged education could help in answering nagging questions in our midst; the questions which are always the subjects of heated debate. 

   In a paper entitled “Rethinking and Reclaiming Development in Africa,” Vusi Gumede wrestles with the following enquiry: “if development is such a desirable end for both African leaders and their so-called partners, why has it been so elusive and tedious to achieve?”

Ahead of the adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals in 2015, the executive secretary of the UN Economic Commission for Africa, Carlos Lopes, called on Africa to fund its transformation: “…the first model to use is what we have…which is mostly domestic resource mobilisation. We cannot fund our economic transformation solely through ODA; we must focus on domestic public resources and better negotiations for our contracts…”

   Back in 2012, I listened to a presentation on “African Universities as Agents of Sustainable Development.” One of the conference’s main points still rings in my ears to this day: “the task of colleges, polytechnics and universities is not so much to produce certificates, diplomas and degrees for the shelf, but to promote impact-oriented research. Education should be pursued for the pleasure of learning or acquiring critical life skills.” One speaker chillingly reminded delegates about the predestined symbiotic and coactive relationship a person must have with his or her community. The omnipotence of this relationship is captured in The Omnivorous Dilemma by Michael Pollan: “more grass means less forest; more forest less grass…even antagonists depend on one another.”

   One could also consider Mango Wodzak’s subtle tale about people and fruits. He writes that “fruit is freely given by the plant. It entrusts us with the seed, while surrounding it with the gift of the fruit, as prepayment for conscious seed dispersal; the tree trusts us to do the right thing and care for its seeds…”

The conference speaker chose a Pan-African approach. Quoting Okot p’ Bitek, he said: “man is not born free. He is incapable of being free. Man has a bundle of duties which are expected from him by society, as well as a bundle of rights and privileges that the society owes him. 

   In African belief, even death does not free him. If he had been an important member of society while he lived, his ghost continues to be revered and fed: and he in turn, is expected to guide and protect the living.” (Okot p’ Bitek, Man the Unfree)

Could p’ Bitek’s argument answer Vusi Gumede’s question? Was Maruge’s record-breaking stint at school a more-embracing lesson than a mere wish to read the Bible? Is it possible that African education could still yet measure up to the expectations and needs of the post-colonialism continent? In short, is it time to forcefully argue that societies are a product of their education?

 It is worth noting that Yasutani Roshi calls it a “fundamental delusion to suppose that I am here, and you are out there.”
Indeed, commentators have long criticised the ongoing pursuit of “white-collar employment and the never-enough money.” They observe that the commonest question which colonial education invariably asks children is, “what do you want to do when you grow up?” 

   They propose instead that the correct variant should be: “what do you want to be when you grow up?” Inherent here is support for the growing entrepreneurial thinking that is setting Africa ablaze. 
The expected value of education in Africa is laid bare in the following: “the Western concept of education teaches that literacy is about the ability to read the ‘word’ and it ends there. In African philosophy and world view, however, literacy is about reading the ‘world,’ not the ‘word.’ Real education is imbued with compassion, caring, sharing and responsiveness to the needs of the community as a whole.”

   Tate Maruge’s experience was not driven by a selfish desire. His wish to read the Bible and steer clear from ‘misleading’ teachings epitomised the collectivist nature of African society. 
His reasons for going to school underlined a desire to recalibrate the value and relevance of his biblical lessons. Needless to say, his mission was to find Bible teaching which would work for both him and his community. 


New Era Reporter
2019-03-08 10:21:17 17 days ago

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