The price of Education

Last night I had the chance to contemplate two of the most primordial aspects and needs of human nature -Violence and Education.

The Education discourse is divided in Academical and non-Academial.The Academial aspect is taught in schools and its main purpose is to teach English while giving knowledge of different scientific subjects, social studies and history. The non academical takes place within the household and is transmitted from one generation to another.

I’ve had the chance to get an insight of the former while teaching at Mkombe Academy.
This primary school has 113 students from Kindergarten (KG) to class 5 (STD 5) for a total of 7 classes. Mr Kaengo is the headmaster but also a teacher and on his side he has five colleagues. Mkombe Academy is a private school, which means that the parents have to pay for children’s books and for teachers. The fee is 1600Ksh (16 Euro) each semester. If you go to a private school in Europe chances are that your family is wealthy or you are an only child with hard working parents. People don’t have much choice here, the closest primary school is some 10Kilometers away (you have to walk) and people living in this area benefited from the decision of a local to invest money in this “building” – 2huts made of wood and mud and 1 building made of blocks. They needed some help and working as a builder was harder than I thought.

I don’t know what your memories from primary school are but I believe are pretty different from the memories that these children will have once grown up. If I think  ‘primary school’ I think Pokemon Cards, Game Boy, Nike Shoes -I had the model called Shark and I was really cool, refectory, clean classrooms, big pencil cases with dozen of colors, branded backpacks, hundreds of euros of books and so on…

Here there is only one ball made of plastic bags and rope, instead of backpacks they have plastic bags (like the ones you’re given at the off licence when you buy booze in London), every student only owns one notebook per subject and 2 pens. The books are usually shared but it depends from class to class. People buy maths books but there is only few copies of Social Studies and English books available.

Since an early age they learn that Education is a precious gift, no one will pay your school fees from secondary school onwards and if you want to get a degree you have to earn it with your money. When I was in secondary school I used to joke with my friends and say “Who is the dickhead that invented schools?-I hate school!” and until I moved to London I never considered going to school something really useful for my future. I have the feeling that in Italy education is too much taken for granted. Everyone just go to school and to university because that’s what you do before getting a job and most of the people I know (including me) pay the fees with their parents money. But this is another matter.

The experience at Mkombe Academy went really well, I taught Science and English to STD5. The first few days the students in this class where very cold and not answering my questions but they opened up a lot by the time I learned their names and I got to know them really well. Hamisi,Charo, Naftha and Brieton are the boys of the class, Zawadi (Tom’s sister), Neema and Rachel the ladies. I don’t know if I’m allowed to have a favorite pupil but I felt a very good chemistry with Naftha. Such a brilliant boy…

In class 3 I was teaching maths (just additions) and I took some classes of social studies. STD 3 is more numerous: 7boys -Henry, Juma, Shaib, Amani, Yusuf, Robert and Antony- and 4 girls- Khadija, Sheila, Rehema and Grace.  They’re all great and showed real excitement for me from the first time I walked into the class. One day I was sitting on a desk correcting homework during the break and all the students where still in class surrounding me, contemplating my skin from close up and making comments on my hair. “He has blond hair, is like a simba (lion)” someone was saying… The day before I had given them seventeen additions to do, they all did pretty well a part two boys who didn’t do any and another one who did the additions during the break and gave me his notebook to be marked later. I asked them why they didn’t do their homework and I got no answer. Immediately all the classmates started complaining: “Teacher, teacher! Teacher, teacher! You have to beat them!” They told me that they are usually punished with a stick or just with the open hand when they don’t do their homework. I refused and simply noted, only on the book of the third boy “Do your homework at Home”. I’ve never been good at orchestrating punishments.

During lunchtime I expressed my disapproval for corporal punishments to the headmaster and another teacher and they were very surprised to know that in ‘Europe’ we use diplomacy and it is illegal (I think it is) to punish students. The same day, in the afternoon, I was attending a Swahili class with KG 2 students. That day I learned how to count up to 100 – Mia Moja. KG students stay in the building made of blocks and while KG2 learn how to count KG1 must be asleep on the floor. That day was a special day for them because I joined the Kiswahili class and KG1 pupils where all sitting instead of sleeping.  After a while my phone rang and I left the building to pick the call. It was Thomas, just a quick call to see if everything was fine. When I got back to class the teacher was beating each KG1 child with a stick and telling them to sleep. One boy started crying and that got him few extra shots. She was hitting precisely, coldly and with no remorse. That’s what teachers have to do. I seated again and we started counting in Swahili again, from 1 to 100.

Violence.

Tom doesn’t like the seaside. He doesn’t swim a lot but yesterday I convinced him to come with me to Bofa Beach. The water was just amazing, so hot and clean. We got back late, ate fish in mango sauce with ugali and he went to sleep before 10 o’clock. I was sitting on the sofa, making some notes and being eaten by mosquitoes while enjoying the silence and peace of the village when the family who lives in a hut opposite my house decided it was time to ‘Educate’ one of their children. I counted 14 heavy slaps in few minutes and only one hiccup. After a cold and long silence someone unleashed another series of heavy slaps. I assume it was the mother, she said few sentences with firm voice in her Mijikenda mother tongue. Educating is a ritual and I was witnessing the sound of it.

These are some of the children that live opposite my house.

The day after I asked Tom about punishments and told me that is normal to be beaten by your educators, parents and teachers. “Once you make a mistake you get beaten”.

I’ve understood two things today; The first one is that one of the reasons why people are so friendly and peaceful in this village is probably because violence is taught in the household and children learn from an early age that is something to fear. The second thing is that that day I failed as a teacher. I condemned the pupil who finished his homework in class to be punished because of my note and at the same time I let the other two boys get away with it.

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