Rethinking Exams Celebrations

In ancient Rome a victorious emperor returning from war was welcomed with street parades where public euphoria elevated him to a near deity. He would then indulge in self praise, delivered in the oratory that Romans are renowned for. But riding in his chariot was a slave whose duty was constantly whisper to him; You are Mortal – this was to remind him that he was just a man, fallible and yes, mortal.

Every year with the release of the KCPE and KCSE results, the top achieving students are treated with the Romans drama, albeit without the slave. With media in toe, convoy of vehicles and bondas hoot and rev, vuvuzelas top the pitch but they all never subdue the songstress who though off-tune, melodiously weaves the achiever’s name into the praise songs.

The student is carried shoulder high and if there is a SUV with a pop-up roof the better. The dancing crowds wave banana stems and any displeasure at the destruction of crops, is met with looks of wacha wivu!

In their naivety, the students tell us how hard they studied and which careers they will take – this is an age of the Internet that will never forget.

The climax is when the proud parent, who is already excited with the social media buzz, takes the mic. They let us into the secret of how they made sure their child lacked nothing and never had to do any chores. They then go on superlatives overdrive on how the child is obedient, hard working, caring and the grand reward they will give him. In a flash the child gets co-owned by the public.

Oh, I need a stronger cup of tea!

I am inserting myself into the exams debate first as a parent of 23 -25 yrs olds. And I am not perfect because I consider parenting a work in progress. Secondly, as a former teacher who is still excited by students’ academic performance but in a holistic way. Last but not least, as a farmer – that’s why the cutting down of bananas annoys me. My sentiments are not from sour grapes and this is a story for no day.

Good people, at 14 yrs ( KCPE) or 18yrs ( KCSE) what the top achievers need is not the pomp, but a constant whisper from their parents that – Child you are not the most clever. This should obviously be said in words that show love and that prevents the child from feeling like an impostor.

Their good grades are showing potential and if it will be actualized in an enjoyable way, the child will need time to discover himself, make mistakes ( even the obedient one), have fun and bouts of self doubt – all things that are normal for a young adult and without the pressure of the public tag of “ the brightest”.

The parents’ duty of whispering to their kids should start with the earliest signs that the child is academically gifted and then consciously shield him from any grades label that society might want to put on him. The child will then be able to navigate his academic journey in the safety that his parents are his secure sounding and landing board when things get tough – because they will.

Once there has been a public exposure, the society will feel entitled to follow up not just on the child’s academic performance but also his lifestyle. The parents might then be tempted to forever want their child to live up to the expectation of the society. In this game the top achiever could end up being the loser.

I believe that academic celebration in the formative years of a child should be confined to schools, where non-academic achievements e.g leadership and extracurricular activities, are also rewarded. My objection is when celebration is used either for the parents ego or as a promotional merchandise by his now former schools and the media – this is how I view our current results celebratory.

For the parents who in hindsight like to blame the media and schools for hijacking their child – hapa mnatuchezea! It is with your consent that your kids go to these events and No Comment is a valid answer on matters concerning your child.

Here is an unsolicited helpful tip; Celebrate your child’s exam results with people you have shared his milestones including the dramas. They will be a handful. The others ni kwa umbali sana, if ever.

Parents need to acknowledge with gratitude that life may have played them a lucky card by giving them a child who is academically gifted. He may not necessarily have worked harder or got a better divine intervention than those who scored lower marks – the distribution curve is real.

And since this academic luck may not run with his siblings, parents should set the tempo for celebrations so as not to create any rivalry or be seen to use one child’s grades as a benchmark for others.

It is a parents duty to keep their academically gifted child grounded by instilling in them a strong work ethic, giving them a moral compass, have extracurricular activities and acquire people and life skills – starting with house chores. Encouraging them to read a wide genre of non- academic books will broaden their view of life and give them an awareness of their knowledge inadequacies. This would hopefully result to a well-rounded individual who is not solely defined by grades.

Without begrudging the top achievers, we need to accept the fact that privilege – mainly of parents finances and the school the child attended, plays a large role in deciding the achievers. This calls for an acute sense of reading the room when parents are basking in their child’s performance.

At the risk of being seen like I am contradicting myself – there are stories of achievers we need to hear. Some are of personal tragedies that the courage to show up for the exams was an achievement and there is a resilience lesson in this.

Others are of average marks obtained in regions where education facilities are so poor, that highlighting them shows the education inequalities in the country. When given an equal playing field these average performers knock down our top achievers without a sweat.

Finally to the parents who are disappointed that their children are not the celebrated cream of the academic milk and who through gritted teeth paraphrase their results with Ni sawa tu, bora uhai. I have news for you. In milk there is also butter,ghee, cheese, yogurt, mala, mursik, powder and whey. All have value. Help your child to know and achieve his milk product.

To the parents of top achievers, unless you are grooming your child for a political career; savor the moment, keep it private, your child will thank you later – believe me. For me wish me rain.

Anne Munene.

This article has been in my drafts for more than a year with 2 exams release periods. I have been conflicted if I should ever publish it because it is not in the agri theme. Testing the waters, I sent the draft to my 2 young adults who replied with gratitude of the joy and freedom that grades anonymity gave them. But there was a rider, ” Mama you never whispered… just read the riot act”. Then I hit the publish button.

Please let me know your views.

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