I was neither the best nor the brightest student in primary or high school but I could certainly have received an award for being the naughtiest one.
School bored me to death and my two main non-academic goals were to read as many novels (apart from the set books) as possible and to sleep as much as I could.
I could never get enough of either so I and my like-minded friends devised ways to read novels during class time or abscond class altogether, much to the disappointment of our parents and teachers.
I was an above-average student (a miracle, really, given my wayward ways), but those who had the misfortune of being in the bottom five or three had their names read out at the school parade at the beginning of the school term because they were “the ones letting the school down and lowering the mean grades”.
Their lives would be doomed to one of poverty and misery, we were told. They would amount to nothing, we were told.
Anybody who was deemed to be on the route to academic dwarfism was stigmatised, ridiculed and shamed.
Of all the things I regret about my primary and secondary school years, what I regret the most is that I did not know life could be any different and was never taught any better.
The fear of such shaming and stigmatisation drove me to be on my best behaviour during exam season. And especially so during the Kenya Certificate of Primary Education (KCPE) or Kenya Certificate of Primary Education (KCSE) exams.
I recounted to my colleague recently about how I always got saved just before national exams-- courtesy of the prayer days and the calls to repent our sins if we wanted bright futures--even though I worked very hard to stay away from church when exams were not in season.
We all thought that declaring Jesus as our saviour would secure us those badly needed A’s.
And who could blame us really? The amount of pressure piled on students to pass examinations, to score that elusive A, is so tremendous that it has driven some to depression and suicide.
Every exam season, the media is rife with reports of KCPE and KCSE candidates who commit suicide because they did not get the grade they wanted. The latest case is of the KCPE candidate from Homa Bay County who committed suicide because he was beaten to position two by a classmate.
Which brings to mind Kisii Ward Representative Gekonge Mirieri, who shocked a school by apparently sending a condolence card,instead of a success card, to KCPE candidates at Bogeche Primary School.
“We are deeply sorry for the loss. Please accept our heartfelt sympathies for your loss. Our thoughts are with your family during these difficult times,” the message on the cover stated, according to the story published on Nation.co.ke.
“Unhappy”, “unheard of”, “inappropriate” and “stunned” were some of the choice phrases that villagers used to describe the politician’s actions.
The politician, of course, blamed the card on his “former competitors”. Political enemies, if you like.
But I have a different take on that matter.
Those KCPE candidates, and every other KCSE candidate, really, deserve sympathy cards.
We need to say sorry to them because many will lose their sense of self-worth when they receive their exam results.
We need to say sorry to them because some will lose their friends to suicide because of poor exam results.
We need to say sorry to them because they will go back home to parents who will make them feel useless for “wasting money”.
We need to say sorry to them because those who will “pass with flying colours” will leave school with the illusion of a big and better life waiting for them and then suffer from disillusionment when they realise that the future they were promised was just air. It was nothing.
We need to say sorry to them because the society will label the D and E students as failures and subject them to stigma at every turn.
We need to say sorry because the university education they so yearned for will ill-prepare them for the not-so-bright future they were promised if only they passed their exams.
So as parents and other well-wishers send candidates success cards to wish them well, they should slide in sympathy cards as well. Gekonge Mirieri already set the pace for that.
And to KCPE and KCSE candidates, I’m sorry. This article is my sympathy card.
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