How my four-year high school experience prepared me for life
I first sat a fully-fledged school level examination five and-a-half months after joining secondary school. That was in the early 1980s.
The administration of Kivaywa Secondary School in Kakamega County had a tradition of exposing students to the curriculum that teachers were expected to teach each term throughout the whole of first term without internal examinations.
As a result of this peculiar school policy, all the students went home for their April holidays without sitting the end-of-term examinations and without report cards.
This is the reason that delayed my exposure to the first secondary school level examinations in July 1979 — a whole five and-a-half months since joining Form One.
The nearest we came to something resembling an examination was in English, Mathematics, and Kiswahili. Teachers gave us quizzes at the end of every lesson to work on.
We were to have answers ready before the next lesson. As a result, we had exercises to do in English and Mathematics every day.
We frequently exchanged our exercise books and marked each other under the direction of the teachers. It was after clearing the quizzes of the previous lesson that we embarked on the next lesson or topic.
I don’t remember having any anxiety about the mid-year examinations. We had had a whole five and-a-half months of precocious instructional time with our teachers.
Substance of education
The only other school level examinations we had in the school were end-year examinations. In other words, my schoolmates and I were exposed to a total of only seven school level examinations — including school-based mock examinations for the Fourth Form students — before finally meeting the Kenya National Examinations Council’s Kenya Certificate of Education (KCE).
We sat these school-based examinations after reasonable intervals — an average of three months each. In between, we had intensive and extensive studies — in the classrooms with teachers, self-directed individual and group studies during night preps from 6.30pm to 9pm every weekday and from 10am to noon every Saturday.
We had unending discussions almost each day about academic and topical issues; discussions meant to shape the minds, character and souls of learners.
Looking back, I am amazed that the educational philosophy of the school administration, led by Raza Mwanzo (now deceased), was focused on the ultimate substance of education: the curriculum as sanctioned by the ministry of Education.
Our headmaster suspended teaching and learning for three weeks each term, for either mid-year, end-year or mock examinations. We thus went into each of the internal examinations with confidence.
During all other times, we enjoyed the precious instructional time that defined our secondary education experience. There was no sword of Damocles of examinations hanging on our heads.
The teaching and learning gave us ample space not just to study the approved course books, but also made us explore supplementary reading and study materials on all manner of disciplines.
It is in this environment that I read The Insect Play by two Czech brothers, Karel and Josef Capek Czech, The African Child by Camara Laye and To Sir, With Love by E. R. Braithwaite. I even read a book on the failed Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba in of 1961.
Ordinarily, these books have little attraction for a secondary school student. But the meaningful educational experience our school gave us made it possible to venture into reading books such as these.
The school also exposed us to all the subjects we started off with in Form I. Mwanzo argued that the only subject one would drop was Kiswahili or Physical Science — otherwise all subjects were compulsory.
We also attended public holidays. We walked to Matete township a kilometre away to listen to President Moi’s speeches as read by the District Officer.
Apart from taking part in celebrating public holidays, we also got the chance to steam off by watching traditional dancers.
Secondary school life had minimal stress. The school had devised ways of either minimizing the stress or relieving the stress. There were no superfluous internal examinations at short intervals. The school strictly observed the official teaching hours of between 8am and 4pm.
The only teachers the students interacted with after the close of official class hours were games teachers, the teacher on duty or the boarding master. The headmaster held pep talks with students.
I believe that the secondary educational experience I had adequately prepared me for further education, work and the responsibilities of citizenship. It also prepared judge on right from wrong.
Finally, it also gave me a set of values that guide me in all my actions.
The writer is a Communications Officer, Ministry of Education, Nairobi