The 8-4-4 System Constantly Abused Kenyan Children
By Warris Kimathi
Kenya’s new School Curriculum, the Competency-Based Curriculum, continues to show it’s colours in classrooms, even after the sudden death of one of the controversial system’s biggest defenders, Professor George Magoha, amid sustained attacks and unchecked criticism from disgruntled parents.
If the CBC train gains its intended steam in the not-so-distance future, the country will likely be a social split between citizens who will study under that new system and those who went through the 8-4-4 system, two learning systems that promise to be fundamentally different from each other.
No not a political, chaos-in-the-streets kind of a split, but a split nonetheless.
Truth it, wouldn’t be the first time Kenyans have been polarised by the unmitigated disaster that is the Kenyan style of parenting and handling children.
If you, like myself, left the 8-4-4 system while it was in its deathbed, you might know the thrill and danger of being in secondary school in the early 2010s.
The golden years when the internet was properly sinking its jaws in the young African population, and party-preaching Caribbean dancehall music was the soundtrack of the Kenyan secondary school experience.
Where I went to school, boyz (used here to refer to other ‘locked up’ victims of the 8-4-4) worshipped the little internet access the school threw at us once every while.
In fact, many of us ‘boyz’ snuggled our empty heads through whatever hole we thought would lead us into the Cyber School, hoping to catch a lucky break with the fearsome Cyber proprietor. But the unfortunate few who got made constantly paid a heavy price.
My own turn on the chopping block came when I was in my sophomore year, one hot January afternoon. This is the Chelule story.
The Chelule story is one of many that are written most boldly and indelibly in my book of Forget-Me-Nots. But no sir, it’s not a flowery one.
In my old secondary school, the Cyber School was sacred to us all. Us, the boyz.
Why? The internet lived there.
But so did Chelule and his minions.
On the timetable, every dog got it’s day couple times every term. To a fifteen-year-old, a term is the three-month period that lasts forever.
Ours fell on Wednesdays mostly. Probably Mondays?
You got 30 minutes with the World Wide Web if you managed to make it out of the long Dining Hall queues in time. 1.30 GMT +3 pronto. Sacred.
I rarely made it on time, partly because my village butt had not Internet fetishes yet, but mostly because the world-famous DH queues had never been kind to me.
In form two, my year was drier than whatever dry year you’ve ever survived. I was having a mini-pandemic going on.
As you’d imagine, I seldom got sacred Cyber that sophomore year (except of course for those off-schedule Cyber classes that often landed us some serious browsing).
Signor Chelule and his gang of well-meaning colleagues were figuratively as feared as the trigger-happy lead characters in the acclaimed British TV show, Peaky Blinders.
If a wayward student dared sneak into the Cyber school at the wrong time, or with the wrong group – or another repeat offender scrolling through the wrong site- that student would be beaten into fine pulp, obviously not literally, but the beating was usually executed on the spot, right after the Judge, Jury and Executioner (same individual) determined the boy’s sins and thereby determined a deserved amount of physical violence.
I’m not making any of it up, these fellas didn’t play.
Boyz had the habit of sneaking into the forbidden Cyber because it was just adjacent to the library. In fact it was inside, the library.
The catch? Anyone could moonwalk or even crawl into the godforsaken library whenever they darn well pleased.
Different case with the Cyber. There wasn’t much happening there most times anyway, except for stacks of books and the librarian; fire-breathing, mascara-smudging Patricia.
Right next to it, one stupid decision away from a chance to look into the outside World and pay the price
Such opportunities inspired much mischief. And it did not help that we all craved and shamelessly lusted for a click and a quick sweep of the web every now and then.
A little peek at what’s the latest trending music, a quick second text to that girl who hasn’t replied on Facebook.
Most boyz seeking out some juicy topic to banter about in the dormitories, or corny pick-up sentences to mail to girls’ schools.
This innocent attempt to simply know what’s going on put a lot of boyz in the line of mindless violence.
The day I decided to log into the Cyber School ILLEGALLY is my highlight as a “Victim of the 8-4-4.”
I had corrupted my way past four hundred others on the meandering lunch queue using a brazen act of graft, that which involved a member of the much feared Prefect service. It’s called a “Swish” -but we’ll go down that rabbithole some other day.
So walking back to class with some brothers—half-running, actually— I saw Herr Chelule.
Atall, lonesome figure that at face value betrayed no sign of violence yet inspired unspoken fear among we boyz.
He is seemingly exiting the school, leaving his lair and its golden eggs vulnerable to many an Internet-hungry teenager.
As crazy as this now sounds, a devilish ‘idea’ struck me to go up and ‘see’ which class had Cyber.
I got past the dozing librarian easy, her mascara-smudged eyes drooping with sleep, sitted prostate, as if her brain had been half-slowed by the scorching Nakuru afternoon sun.
Once outside the Cyber room I wedged in slowly, ready to rush back out if I saw the other guy who beat sneaky boyz up worse than Chelule. His name was Hezron, and Sir Hezron was the fire to Chelule’s frying pan.
I wedged my head through the door-crack.
It was Empty.
The computer monitors were all on and glowing, calling at me in Freedomspeak. I knew I’d be a sitting duck if I chose to go in, but those bloody keyboards were too seductive.
The cognitive dissonance was killing me. To be or not to be?
In the end, my digital cravings got the hack of me and my common sense crumbled. I quickly shot in, sat at the farthest corner where I’d be hidden from immediate view, and clicked away.
I was hoping the class that was scheduled for a session that afternoon would start walking in and I’d sneak out in the melee. More clicking.
I was just about to type down some hot new song on Youtube when the door flew open .
My eyes did too. SenorChelule. Face lit with violent anticipation, like Samuel L. Jackson in Pulp Fiction
“Ala, unafanya nini hapo?”
Everything after that went past in a blur, as if a space black hole had sucked me in and then spat me out.
I was suddenly being slapped the same way they slap into Indian dough, with intent to soften the hard parts.
An ambush of<span;> slaps that rained from all directions, carpet-bombing my clean-shaven head with white, blinding pain.
He was also kicking me like the proverbial can down the road. How he did both so harmoniously still beats me today.
Someone told me that’s called ‘beating someone up with everything you’ve got.’ And Monsieur Chelule seemed to have had quite a lot that afternoon.
In the end I had been thrown out of the forbidden room through the library under consistent abuse.
All while attracting a lot of unwanted attention, both from genuine readers and the infamous library sleepers, who were no longer pretending to read their pillow books, but had their bloodshot eyes following me across the library aisles, enjoying my public humiliation before they tucked right back into their unsanctioned naps.
My eyes were watery and I was very hot. All over. Even my fingernails were hot. I had to go find a tap and ran water all over my face, all the while panting like an Olympics Marathoner.
As I shame-walked back to class a crude message from the School system had been burned deep into my cheeks.