Sunday 16th June 2013
I never thought I’d reconcile with a computer. To think that right now I’m tapping a computer keyboard to write out this verbiage that torments you every Sunday, wonders will never cease! You, too, would have cursed the day the computer was invented, if you’d been me.
You see, it was 1969 and we were waiting for our primary-leaving exam results. We were in the sprawling refugee settlement of Nshungerezi, Uganda, tilling the land, when news came that the exam results were out. But while others were genuinely panicky and fretting about them, I only pretended to be nervous because I did not want to appear arrogant. So, when others rushed to check, I feigned fear and asked them to check for me and break the bad news to me later. Unfortunately, when it came, the news was actually bad. I’d flunked the exam!
How? I trusted my medulla oblongata – as we called the brain to distinguish ourselves from those who’d not heard of Biology as a subject – and was sure I’d passed. But now that I was going to work the land for a living for the rest of my life, I’d never use such bombastic words, as we called them. In fact, I’d never speak English again. I picked my hoe and tilled the land with more vigour. If this was going to be my livelihood, I’d as well get to enjoying it.
Yet I couldn’t stop myself from regretting. In our time, only Mathematics and English were considered. We did other subjects like Geography, History, et al, all lumped together as Civics, but these were not included in the final mark. Since they were harder, without them I’d been confident that I’d pass easily. So easily, in fact, that in Mathematics I deliberately gave two wrong answers, in case examiners thought I’d cheated. As refugees, we never wanted to shine as that attracted attention and sometimes hostility.
I and many others were still suspecting this hostility, and that maybe examiners had deliberately failed us, when our headmaster called us back to Kajaho Primary School, our alma mater. There, he announced that our marks had been “eaten”! There was a machine, he’d been told, called a computer and it had eaten them. The machine looked like a mechanical elephant, but without a trunk. It lived in Makerere University, in a house of its own.
In the end correct results came and we went to secondary school and on to university, whereupon I met the computer. Indeed, it was a monster of a machine and it could only just fit in a room. However, I was in languages and never got to use it. What I know is that it may have eaten marks but I never heard of it eating anything else or anybody. That’s the ancestor to your desktop, laptop, i-pad, tablet, smart phone, whatever you use.
What all the above goes to tell you is that during our time, we studied under impossible conditions but counted ourselves lucky. If you were lucky and hostile examiners didn’t steal your marks and monster computers didn’t eat them, you knew you were among a privileged, limited number of youngsters.
After all, if you happened to fail your exams, what awaited you was a life of manual toil, as there was no repeating a class. If you were caught cheating in exams, prison awaited you. That, on top of being caned until your backside was left in meaty shreds!
It was a far cry from the education of today, where options abound. Today, students can take a teacher to court if he steals their marks. Computers are so efficient that it’s unheard of that they can eat marks. If a teacher were to so much as touch a student, leave alone cane, not only students but also leaders of this country would skin him/her alive.
In fact, when a teacher catches students cheating and deducts their marks, they flee and abandon their education all together. Amazing!
For instance, by the time this story comes out, sixteen students will likely still be camped at a police station in Kampala, Uganda. They were being harassed by the Rwanda Education Board, they say, because they were denied marks that they’d worked so hard to cheat. They are seeking asylum because they have been denied their rights!
Seriously, the truth of exactly what transpired may be yet to come but, imagine it. Can the exam board of a country do anything that’d make candidates run into exile?
Have these kids caught the bug of a few of their elders who, when caught dipping their hands in government kitty, cry wolf and exile? The route out of Rwanda is as open as the gates of Damascus, why don’t they pick their passports and go without creating lame excuses?
Is it the over-friendly computer of today that’s going to their heads? Or is it the seduction of those ever-hungry rights groups, when their fund-raising loot is faced with looming depletion?
Indeed, I’ll never understand this computer age.