I date my understanding and appreciation of the purpose of education in 1980 when I was in Form Two. It was during the April holidays when I read Weep Not Child by Ngugi wa Thiong’o, a book I was bought for by my father.
I read the novel about Njoroge whose age was more or less similar to mine. I read about the deprivation in his family, the dispossession of land Africans suffered when White settlers came to Kikuyu country.
I also read about the rise of the people under the auspices of Mau Mau to reclaim not only the land but also the freedom that the Whites had taken away when they colonised them.
The uprising was not particularly new to me. I had read about it in primary school in preparation for the Certificate of Primary Education (CPE). The most intriguing thing about the novel was the ambition and dreams Njoroge had—dreams of reclaiming the land and freedom for the people but through education.
His elder brother, Boro, had disappeared into the forest to join Mau Mau fighters and Njoroge saw education as the only sure tool that could be used to restore the dignity of his people.
He expounded his vision of life to Mwihaki, a daughter to one of the Christian priests in the community. He did it with such passion that it not only seized the imagination of Mwihaki but it also captured mine.
The young girl was also in school, a better school far away from the ridges. But she had no idea or purpose why she was in school. I was similarly in school but had no clue in the world why I was there except that everybody of schooling going age was supposed to go to school.
True. I had been told about education enabling someone to secure a job but being so young, I had not at that time connected my schooling and securing a job. What for? We then lived in the best of possible worlds. We had clothing, shelter and it was not our business to look for food.
That was the mandate of our parents. We had lots of fun looking after cattle at home, plucking and eating wild fruits in the thickets we took the animals for grazing. The kind of education we were undertaking secluded from home life was something alien to our thinking.
We attended school because we had no choice. The modestly good marks some of us got that secured us tolerably good secondary schools came despite our not knowing why we were schooling.
And there came Weep Not Child! The book defined a definitive purpose of education for me.
Extrapolating Njoroge’s attitude to education, I for the first time, discovered that education can be a tool to secure certain knowledge and skills to do something for society.
It was here, more than from any book or person, that I came to understand that education can give knowledge and a chance to someone to be something to the world; something more than ignorance can allow.
My mind takes me back to Weep Not Child, when Education policy makers lace their speeches with a widely quoted statement former South Africa President Nelson Mandela made to the effect that education is the most powerful weapon with which you can change the world.
Last December, my mind took me back to Weep Not Child when I read UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon’s Education First Project in This is Africa magazine statement where he calls on World governments and development agencies to invest more in Education, more than any other infrastructure.
Weep Not Child not only defined for me the essential purpose of education in organised society; it also helped me discover that literature abounds with imaginary people and characters that can inspire and define one’s life’s purpose.
It is chiefly from reading works of fiction and biographies that defined for me the anatomy of leadership.
I have consequently learned leadership through reading great works of literature than I have learned this essential institution of stable and prosperous society from formal books on psychology, sociology or management.
From early on, my interest in fiction has always been to see how dominant characters in those books think, behave and more importantly what it is that make them control people without force. I have particularly wanted to understand their morals and character orientation.
Indeed, my English language and Literature teachers at Kivaywa Secondary School in Kakamega county appeared to be of the classical school of literary criticism or theory.
Mr Okia Oriang and Mrs Teresa Bigogo never openly cited Plato, Aristotle, Longinus and other classical literary theorists in their teaching of books they taught us. Their interpretations of the literary texts, however, appeared matched incident to character, to explaining the actions of the characters in the light of certain overarching moral climate or universe.
Their influence has made me see nothing but vision character, morality, sacrifice, honour, integrity in the actions, and inactions of the imaginary people who inhabit literary works.
A novel, poem, a play or biographical work that captures a certain vision of life holds an attraction for me. Anything less, even if it is written in beautiful language, does not hold me.
They also highlighted for us the creative use of language in literature that differentiates it from the banal or mundane use of language.
The net result of this education, aside from giving me some knowledge, is that it has helped me to become sensitive to language. I would like language to be used as a tool of communicating thoughts and feelings and not necessarily facts about an issue. And it should so communicated in a language in simple and clear format.
The by-product of these infatuation with literature is that it has equipped me with skills to assimilate and synthesise large amounts of information; identify and summarise important points in a text; translate complex and large concepts into succinct language that the highly educated and people of average education can understand.
Whatever else the study of literature provides to the student, it should be able to make him/her to cultivate imagination and see things from others’ perspective, explain things in clear and concise language to ensure maximum understanding in the group or organisation.
And for the young, to help define and anchor their hopes and aspirations on something useful to them and to the society at large.
Mr Buhere is the Communications Officer, Ministry of Education.