The Institute of A-grade machines

I always hated my high school, which was a boarding school. But you can’t really hate concrete walls and grass. You can only remember  experiences lived within those walls and hate the memory of them.

I have always been a very logical person- many times to my own detriment. This character trait served me especially badly during my years at high school- where I was but a cog in a wheel that ran toward the glorified goal of scoring grade ‘A’ in the final examinations. Well, I scored a B+ in my final examination- and was, for a long time afterward, convinced that that grade was proof of my intellectual inferiority. Here, ladies and gentlemen, was B+ material, incapable of more (or so I thought at the time). When I think about it, it’s hard to believe that we were that brainwashed into believing that anything less than an A was useless, an embarrassment, a waste of our parents’ hard-earned money used to pay our school fees. Of course there was no way we could all get A’s. But try telling that to the brainwashed masses.

Anyhoo, boarding school, a.k.a. four years of hell. I was telling a couple of friends the other day that we had a water shortage for four years straight, no kidding. For a girl, that is excruciating. But what depressed me was the thinking that we were inmates at some sort of maximum correctional facility, unable to reason unless by use of external force. It is this sort of retrogressive thinking that dictated how everything was run in the school, and made it seem so prison-like.

Here’s the one thing that happened in high school that I was/am most embarrassed about: pregnancy tests. Huh? How can little strips be embarrassing, you ask me. And… pregnancy tests? Let me explain.

Ours was a girls’  school and the one goal of the school was not to produce compassionate, well-rounded citizens, but automatons that scored A and above (ha ha ha) in the KCSE examination. After that we could go and become serial killers or ransack the Treasury, who cares? So, as you can imagine, with a compound teeming with underfed, overcrowded, lonely teenage girls, the terror that took over the administrators’ dreams by night was the idea of any of the students getting pregnant. Pregnant girl = No A grade, a fate worse than death in that environment. Some evil genius came up with the idea of testing the girls each beginning-of-term to ensure that the weevils we were being fed daily were not fattening up somebody’s baby, acquired during a school holiday romp. And there was no way the administration was going to waste money buying pregnancy strips for us- it was all as manual as a typewriter.

This was the day I dreaded the most. We were herded into the corridors, all (40  x 4 x 4) of us, and one at a time, the school nurse would order us to pull up our shirts.She would then roughly pull our breasts, place her hands on our stomachs and prod vigorously to see if there were any signs of a foetus in there (I’m not sure one would have survived such an encounter). She wore no gloves, and the same hands pawed 640 (at least) girls in an area that is very intimate to any woman- her breasts. I was an innocent young girl. I really had no idea what sex was all about, and the most I knew about boys was that they were ‘bad’. However, I very much minded having a strange, dirty woman touch me in my private areas. Worst of all, I had no say. This was supposedly for my good.

I do not know why so many Kenyan parents are obsessed with the idea of ‘toughening up’ their children. I don’t know why they have so little faith in themselves, believing that if their children attend day schools they will never become independent or think for themselves. That is a FALLACY. If throwing your children into an institution where, for nine months out of the year, you have no idea what really happens to them, is ‘toughening up’, then why not just give them away? That’s tough, really, really, tough!

Teenagers are still children, perhaps beginning to look more like adults but still in need of loving guidance and care as they navigate their way out of childhood and learn to stand on their own. It completely baffles me that a parent would more or less hand their child over to an adult whose character and mental fitness they cannot vouch for, partially bestowing parental rights upon them and then hoping, with fingers and toes crossed, that the child will turn out ‘all right’, which is what happens the length and breadth of this country. And then after that the same parents wonder why their children have nothing much to say to them. What on earth would you discuss with someone whose only input in your life is to pay school fees?

Many think that I am a wimp for saying openly how much I hated high school, for not relishing maltreatment. They try to jolly me along to accept that ‘That’s just the way it is’. They scold me because I was not beaten up in the middle of the night or forced to do idiotic chores for seniors, as many of you were. Apparently it’s a matter of pride to ‘survive’. Well, I call that pure drivel. This is not Robben Island or Shimo la Tewa  Prison we’re talking about.  Sorry folks, but crazy old me will continue to believe that school is for learning and helping to mould a well-adjusted, all-rounded human, not battle-hardened, unthinking and equally unfeeling grade-churning machines.

Boarding school is not the magic bullet we seem to think it is.


2 thoughts on “The Institute of A-grade machines

  1. I share your sentiments my dear given we were in the same school and class.
    A child still needs the parents care and attention until they reach 18years then they can be allowed to be on their own.
    It was a traumatic experience for me and resolved never to allow my children to go to a boarding school; thank God am in agreement with my husband

    Thanks for sharing Stella

    1. Mwachai, I didn’t know, I thought I was the only traumatised one! Thanks for reading, and I made the same resolution concerning my future children :-).

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