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The little important things

I did my secondary school education at Bwaila Secondary School in Lilongwe. Bwaila was obviously one of the schools in the country that were well equipped to prepare students for the next leg of their intellectual and professional development. It had all the necessary laboratories and also had wood work, metal work and technical drawing workshops.

I enjoyed technical drawing from Form 1 to Form 2 and I passed when I wrote my JCE. Most of my passions began at a young age. I loved colouring and drawing and had an eye for anaesthetics. So technical drawing was always an exciting challenge topped with getting the right dimensions, the right pencil, and the right arcs. Of course, that voilà feeling you get sitting at that high desk after viewing finished work was the highlight.

I started believing my career will advance towards that direction; architecture seemed to be a probable option.

But come form three, I was pained to learn that I could not continue with the subject as there was only one teacher, Mr. Gama, who could teach the subject and he could not manage to teach all four classes on top of the other subjects he also taught at the school: mathematics and the other interesting subject – woodwork.

He tried for a few weeks to once in a while give an assignment but it was just too much work, and just like that, the two upper classes at the school could no longer continue with Technical Drawing or Woodwork or Metalwork. So I explored other passions. I did very well in English, Literature and Social Studies. I could pass without even studying and usually during my secondary school years, I scored very high marks and was at the top of the class or top three on the overall marks. And this was considered an avenue for a variety of professional options which many of us students at the time thought we had.

That was when I considered social sciences.

I applied at both the Catholic University and University of Malawi and the results came concurrently. I was picked at both: Catholic University for Social Sciences and Polytechnic for Journalism (which has a high social science part to it) and worked well with my love for reading and writing and literature. I failed to apply for pure Social Sciences at Chancellor College because I did not have a flying colour pass mark in mathematics. After deliberations with parents and social influence, the choice was the University of Malawi. This was ten years ago.

Interestingly enough, Journalism had subjects like Statistics and Economics throughout the years which involved math and I did well in them. The mind of a well nurtured intellectual is able to learn and adjust to new avenues especially in a university system and definitely when they are passionate about the path they seek to take. This always has me thinking: is the need for a credit in mathematics too restrictive for those choosing to pursue courses like Social Sciences? Economics?Architecture?

The last part led to the second question: how deep does the effect of not having the right teachers or the right number of teachers for a particular subject go? One teacher’s unavailability was able to influence the path that the few students who took the Technical Drawing class took. Metalwork and Woodwork were long dead even before we got to Form 2. How many students were affected by these gaps? How many students did not follow their initial passions because of this? And what if I wanted to teach Technical Drawing later, how effective a teacher would I be when I failed to learn it wholly while doing my own secondary school education?

As we are speaking, the education crisis has risen to even higher levels. Teachers are underpaid and they keep leaving the profession they love. This results in more and more gaps in the system and diminishes the value of education. Our colleges are experiencing the same problems: lecturers want higher salaries and students are striking for their so-called right to education and fair treatment while at it.

We now have students who have to wait a year or two to start their university education because the calendar has been pulled back due to these gaps. How many students will end up taking other paths that do not meet their initial expectations? Or take no path at all? How many careers are being destroyed because of this chaos? How long will the ripple effects of the little important things that are being taken for granted now last?

Of course, the effects can land us in greater paths, sometimes. And challenges and gaps sometimes lead to innovations but on a larger scale, the pros outweigh the cons. We need not restrict and derail opportunities and avenues in intellectual and professional development. The little important things are what build up to the development of this country; its intellectual capacity, its professional prowess, its innovational boldness and its primal survival in a fast changing competitive world.

I rest my case.

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