Life after school
“And with the powers vested in me, I charge you all with the power to read!” I walked out of that graduation square feeling like Drake after Back to Back. I had just completed my undergraduate studies and I had been let lose. At that point, I hadn’t paid attention to what the Chancellor had said. All I could think of was, “I’m not taking anything less than $1,000 a month.” I live in Africa, so that’s more than enough for a young graduate in Nairobi.
The first week went by and I was still reeling from the massive hangover of celebrating my ‘great achievement’. What was there to worry about? I had graduated with a 3.5 GPA and nobody would look down upon such brilliance. I mean, I was practically the icing on the cake and nobody likes cake without icing. I had sent out my CV to more than 5 major agencies and they all responded with the same line using different words, “We’re looking for a 70 year old, in a 22 year old’s body, with the enthusiasm of a 16 year old.”
The first month went by and I was getting a little bit bored. I had gone for one or two interviews and I think the connection in the country was bit poor because none of the companies ever called me back. That’s when it hit me. The Chancellor hadn’t given me the power to work, she instead handed me the power to read. If I only I knew, I’d have asked for better.
The science of the system
The education system barely prepares learners for the vicious world that awaits them once they hand in their school IDs. There’s very little in the Kenyan education system from early childhood to university that prepares students for careers. In primary school, you’re taught to get good grades or get whipped. Yeah, corporal punishment existed when I went to school and there was noting we could do about it.
Once you get good grades and win internal awards in school you’re set aside as the crème of the crop. The students that have talents in arts and sports are deemed as lazy and only interested in trivial issues. This cycle doesn’t stop at that level, it escalates to high school. In high school the teachers let you know that if you get anything less than a B you’re doomed to fail in life. Why would you soil something you’re expected to build?
Those interested in sports get a better reception but for most, it ends in their last year when no talent scout is interested in someone who doesn’t want to pay to make it to the top leagues in the country or region. The few lucky ones have connections with one or two rugby teams and join their reserves before making their way into the first team squads.
The bulk of junior stars that failed to make it venture into other activities, education, entertainment, crime or drugs depending on how much talent and resources are at your disposal. Does the education system do enough? The tests certainly come in droves. If tests would determine success, I’d be damned if Kenyan students weren’t the most successful professionals. Unfortunately, that’s not the case.
The education system isn’t geared towards building professionals but rather churning out record seekers. “I was a Valedictorian.” It would have been worthwhile if the market valued the top achievers as much as learning institutions. But what happens to the average performers? Where do the students who are more creative than analytical go to?
Most of the creative students, including me, didn’t get the exposure we craved for in high school. I was good at Math but I knew I’d never have to use it at any point in my life professionally. I was already angling my skills towards art. The only challenge was that very few tutors saw art as a credible career path. The majority of them would push people towards law, medicine, actuarial science, engineering and not even pausing for a moment to think future learners need future instructors.
Who holds the stick?
Whose role is it to mentor the youth into the right professions? The government? Parents? The society? The list is endless but I believe it’s a collective responsibility. When billionaires proudly proclaim that they dropped out of college and still became successful, are they helping an already ailing industry? When employers ask for a Masters Degree for an entry level position, who’s supposed to pay the course for that student on scholarship?
What would I do differently? I’d introduce psychologists to the school system. You’re probably wondering; why would this psycho want to psycho-analyze my kid? Well, if you can determine your kid’s talents and affinities at a tender age, you’d be more likely to help them pursue their passion. Or, you could just sit back and let BET, MTV, E and other great sources of information guide their career paths.
Look at some of the people who do astounding jobs across the globe; it’s usually as a result of passion. To them their job is not an obligation but rather a lifestyle. They’ve managed to incorporate their lives into their jobs and unlike most of us, actually look forward to going to work. Do I love my job? I don’t think we’re discussing my professional life here but yes, I love my job.
What’s your role?
Guiding young people into the right career paths is a collective responsibility. My mother wanted me to become a lawyer. I probably would be making more money right now and driving one of those luxury SUVs that can drive under water but I chose otherwise. I still think I would’ve been one boss of a lawyer, but I’d rather sit under a tree in the afternoon after my bike ride and write love poems.
What can parents do? The saddest truth is that parents are the least involved parties when it comes to their children choosing relevant career paths. Doctors want to raise mini doctors while lawyers want to nab the criminal intent in their kids from their nascent stages. It’s wonderful that we see footballers nurturing their kids to full blown professionals but at what cost?
We have lawyers in the profession who have no clue about the essence of justice. We have doctors being sued left right and mostly centre for malpractice. We have security personnel at the heart of the drug trade. We have legislators outlawing prostitution but still getting caught in the red light district. If this doesn’t signal people in the wrong profession, I don’t know what does.
Parents need to understand that you aren’t in the best profession but the best profession for you. Your kids need to find what works for them and what they love doing. Circumstances in some systems like the Kenyan one for example may limit these options. However, you can always do what you love on the side.
How do you go about finding your ‘love’?
Some of you are probably asking; how do I know what I love? Well, the answer is there’s no science to it. You just need to do something that you look forward to every morning. Sleeping till noon and smoking a joint doesn’t fall into this category unless you live in Colorado or Uruguay and now Oregon. This is the case of many ways to skin the cat. Most young people look up to celebrities. Search for some of today’s stars and see how long it took them to make it to stardom. Some made it in their 20s while others were big since their teenage days.
The biggest dilemma comes when you have to choose between money and passion. The system doesn’t offer much when it comes to choosing between the two. I have no degree or professional training on career advising but there’s been enough life in my years to know what works and what doesn’t. You may not start with what you love but you can build your way into it. It’s hard if what you love is engineering or medicine but even that you can do with time and determination.
I don’t know what I wrote, but it makes sense
What I’m basically saying is that the education system in Kenya doesn’t do much in equipping learners with the necessary skills they need. Talent and wits alone aren’t enough to drive an entire economy. People need to learn and progress from one level to another.
If I was an education policy maker, kids would not do exams until they were 12, because the aim of education isn’t to weed out the dumb ones from the sharp ones. Education should empower and passing exams only empowers invigilators and exam markers financially. We ain’t about that life.
If the government won’t do anything then maybe you just need to try and find something you love and work towards it. The government’s poison is frying its citizens’ meat so you’ll have to tighten your belt or straight jeans and pursue your dream.