Last week 23 year old Joan Abua, frustrated with her third O-levels failure, committed suicide by hanging herself from a tree behind the family home in Akongo village, Otuke district.
In letters she left behind for her family, she lamented, “This world is not easy, I tried my best in vain” and while thanking people for coming to her funeral, she promised to curse her relatives if the letters were not read out for the mourners.
Around the country similar dramatics were played out – with far less fatal consequences, by “failed” candidates.
One boy, crushed that he did not get four-in-four at primary level, retreated to his room and refused to come out until his parents had wangled a position in a high flying secondary school. He had scored four distinctions.
Another young lady who was hell bent on a career in medicine was so distraught that there was a chance she might not do it in Makerere University, she was ready to repeat her A-levels to make sure of it in 2016. Never mind that she had AAC.
But back to Joan.
"There is something very wrong when a young adult gives up hope and takes their life.
At that age, people should feel that they have the world at their feet, that they are indestructible and that their futures are blindingly bright...
That she repeated her O-levels multiple times points to the fallacy that success in life, which we equate to financial success, flows from academic achievement. And only from a specific education, the one that leads to professional qualifications.
We are involved in one big conspiracy, where the emphasis of our education system is to obtain good marks and not to teach us how to learn, which was the original intent of education.
Which makes sense because documented knowledge was limited then, relative to the current situation, so learning was intended to encourage an inquiring mind, a mind straining against the boundaries of known knowledge.
"What is happening now is that, as a means to market our institutions, we are putting our kids under pressure to churn out four-in-fours and eight-in-eights by cramming information into their little heads and sucking the joy of childhood out of them with loads of homework and ungodly school hours. The unintended consequence of this being that we are graduating self-absorbed, zombies that are good for regurgitating what they have learnt but struggle in the real world where everything is in a constant state of flux....
Essentially we are setting our children up for failure.
Robert Kiyosaki author of the book Rich Dad, Poor Dad says that A-student end up working for C- students.
"His observation is that A-students who have excelled in an education system that does not tolerate failure, discourages partnership and puts a high premium on theory and rote knowledge is the worst training ground for developing entrepreneurs, businessmen, wealth creators.However the C-students, rejected by the system are better suited to succeed financially because they are used to failure, knowing their intellectual limitations are more ready to collaborate and being outside the mainstream are used to swimming against the tide. The perfect qualifications to survive in business...
You don’t have to take his word for it.
Look around you who are the most successful people – even by our warped standards of success? It is not the brightest students, but more likely it’s the people who know how to collaborate, lead and generally get things done.
The richer members of our society are no longer looking for grades. They are looking to grow rounded adults, exposed men and women equipped to operate in a globalised world. They can afford it.
"For the rest of us mere mortals it would be important for us to take a step back and ask ourselves whether forcing our kids into the latest meat factory to cram how to read, write and count is the best preparation for a future where knowledge is pervasive. In the future it will not be what is contained in one’s head that will count but whether one can find the information needed and manipulate it to solve the pressing questions of the day...
Pressure is good. If handled well it forces us to expand our limits and grow. However it can be applied to the wrong priorities and count for nothing.
For Joan we all owe her an apology. For not only forcing her down a path that clearly did not fit her skill set but also for not providing her the alternatives and supporting her in exploring them.
Joan is an extreme case but we see the pressure piling on our children’s little bodies as they brave the freezing pre-dawn cold to school laden with bags as heavy as themselves. Is it any wonder that our children are giving up on life before they have started living?