If there is one tweet that has quietly disturbed the conscience of a nation, it was last month posted by a Ugandan television personality Samson Kasumba.
Usually full of energy and occasionally pulling a stunt to draw attention to a serious subject, Samson this time made a very lazy video of himself, resignedly laughing at the strange place parents, their children and teachers have been boxed into by “edupreneurs”– those school-owning billionaires who have turned the country into a mental torture chamber that keeps children cramming and reciting stuff starting before daybreak until long after sunset.
All for what? Who knows and who cares? Parents, teachers and children are doing it because everyone is doing it. Nobody seems to know why.
The laughing Samson then tells Ugandans how children in Europe who end up making cars study, compared to those in Uganda who end up buying used cars.
School from 6am to 6pm
Laughing Samson says European children start school at 9am and stop at 3pm, enough to become designers and makers of cars. But Ugandan children — who start school at 6am until 6pm, when they return home to do volumes of homework with their parents for more hours, then wake up and start the journey to school at 5am — will at best end up buying cars discarded by those who studied six hours a day.
Ours commit 18 hours daily to school matters. If they become successful, they will drive junks paid for expensively after disposal by those whose countries made them. The dumping of cars in Uganda and Africa is likely to increase in coming years as the developed societies transition to electric vehicles and need to dispose of fuel-powered engines before they become obsolete and hard to service. Only about 5 per cent of adult Ugandans ever get to drive a (used) car.
How did we get here? If we haven’t figured out how, at least we know when we got here. The 49-year-old Laughing Samson went to school in Kampala, when it was not yet a sprawling torture chamber. He started school 43 years ago and, for seven years, used to wake up after sunrise, walk to school and enter class at 8am. He played football and other games during the frequent breaks. At 4pm, he started walking home, playing with friends along the way, reached home long before dark, did some home chores, bathed, had dinner and went to bed around nine. Thirty-six years ago, he finished primary school and entered teenage and secondary school for more fun and learning spanning six years.
Laughing Sam is still laughing, but with confusion, because his daughters in boarding school are undergoing the same “torture” doing hours of “prep” at night, as the children in day school whose ordeal is described earlier. Confusion because the purpose of the ordeal remains unclear.
Torture on children
As Makerere University celebrated its centenary over the past few months, several professors dismissed the PhDs it is awarding these years on grounds of relevance. They said most candidates conduct research in matters of interest to their (foreign) sponsors. It is therefore not surprising that nobody has conducted research on the torture that Ugandan children are undergoing. If the research has been conducted, its findings have not been widely disseminated.
If army recruits undergo ordeals during training, the purpose is obvious, for it prepares them for the kind of work they are meant to do. The purpose of the ordeal that Ugandan children are subjected to for at least 13 years as they carry ten kilos of book-laden bags that have misshaped their bodies has not been made clear to them or their parents. What we know, sadly, is that when they complete the school-plus-college cycle, they are more unemployable than their parents, who spent less hours on schoolwork.
“Old” men and women like Laughing Samson, who have to supervise the young employees who spent 16 hours on schoolwork daily, are constantly baffled how semi-crippled many innocent young workers are.
Human resource managers in Uganda these days have a tool that may surprise their counterparts in Europe. When an employee is failing to perform to expectation, the Ugandan HRM calls the parent to find out what the problem could be. After all, chances are that the young employee still lives under the parent’s roof and care.