Tuesday, March 29, 2016

A lobotomised national conscience

Most of us are not masochists; many of us have a depth of self-awareness that is so accurately self-critical that we do not labour under any illusions that we were meant to successfully sit examinations. First you must know yourself before you can know your enemy; we knew ourselves at a critical level that by the time we were subjected to the Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education, we were not fearful, but joyous that we could only sit for it once, and those would be the only chances we would get because it would either end with us attending university (far, far away) or we would be looking after grandfather's cows and playing horizontal mambo with comely village belles. Things have obviously changed a lot since those halcyon days.

Perhaps I should have paid more attention to what was going on around me when I was in Masaku. If I hadn't been interested in copying Tet's hand at drawing or Cromwell's at English literature, perhaps I would have noticed that there were more and more desperate parents who could not afford to have their sons or daughters take a pass at the KCSE and miss. More and more parents were drilling their children or having their children drilled from morning till night in order that they would successfully sit for the KCSE. Success at this level came with the promise of a prestigious admission to the University of Nairobi, Kenyatta University or JKUAT or for the more better off, the private Strathmore College, later Strathmore University. (Only those of low ambitions dreamt of Moi University, Maseno, Egerton or Masinde Muliro, though Egerton was gaining an enviable reputation in natural resource management studies and Masinde Muliro was no longer a laughingstock when it came to certain engineering programmes.)

But even in those days, the most parents would do would be to spend more and more sums on tutors and exam coaches. I proceeded to waste six or seven years (I can't remember; Goan hash is quite potent) at a university far, far away, and by the time I got back, things had completely gone off the rails. Parents, their children, teachers, policemen, examinations' and ministry officials had formed a complex system for cheating at the KCSE. As no longer meant something and C+s had become utterly worthless. That was eleven years ago.

Every year, more students sit the KCSE and every year, more students get nailed for cheating. I am not talking about the one or two dingbats nailed with mwakenyas in their underpants. No, I mean the conniving snakes that have somehow created criminal networks that guarantee the "leakage" of examinations from the Kenya National Examinations Council, the distribution of those "leaked" exams through a nationwide network, and the collection of tens of millions of shillings in illegal profits. While I somewhat admire the technical sophistication of the cheating, and the brilliant people-skills some of these children require to prevail, I am with Sunny Bindra on this one: once a culture of cheating is inculcated in children, this nation is doomed forever.

Now that children have been introduced to the idea that cheating leads to fabulous wealth, and that fabulous wealth is all that matters, few of them have any incentive to work hard or to be productive. Kwekwe Mwandaza was an innocent gunned down in the dead of night by policemen with axes to grind, but the number of juveniles stalking the commons armed to the teeth like some kind of movie antiheroes is worryingly high and few of them have any qualms about blowing your head away for your wallet, its contents, your watch and your ever present smartphone, the twenty-first century symbol of modernity and money that folds.

Children were the conscience of this nation, once. Now they have become accomplices in its rapine, silent bystanders as a few rampage and pillage with impunity, because all parents, most parents, are complicit in the corruption of the innocent. We all want our children to get a "good education" which more often than not means a university degree. For that we have slowly whittled away at the last vestiges of social conscience that abhorred cheating. In essence, my friends, the good has become the handmaiden of a lobotomised national conscience. When your child holds a gun to your head and forces you to sign over the family cow, don't say you were not warned.

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