Another five years. Another assembly of impatient graduands, proud parents still fussing over impatient graduands, school staff, invited guests and the ever-present horde of vendors outside the gates. The air and sky are pregnant with the promise of rain. School principals and their staff do another few, last-minute checks and pray for the hundredth time that Murphy’s Law will not inflict embarrassment or pain. And beneath the veneer of their radiant, confident smiles offered for public consumption, nerves are stretched to breaking point. Wait another fifteen or twenty minutes past the agreed starting time. Time enough for tardy stragglers to come in and find their places before the procession begins.
Another quick check. Are all the specially-invited guests here? Check! Is the Master of Ceremonies present and ready? Check! Tables and chairs are properly arranged? Sound system adequately tested? All the odds and ends attended to? Check! Check! Check! Almost time now… The attendance looks just right… Another straggler hurries in followed by a single parent. Organizers breathe a huge, inaudible, collective sigh when the principal gives the signal. The pre-recorded music begins, and the graduands start their choreographed walk to prearranged seats, while digital cameras flash as they capture images for posterity.
Everyone is now seated. A hush of expectancy falls on the gathering. Everything seems frozen in time and place. Then the Master of Ceremonies calls for the national anthem to be sung, and the amplified sound followed by the sounds of shoes scraping against concrete or wood, chairs being relieved of human burdens, throats being cleared, and other unfiltered noises rush into the hushed space. And so it begins—the formal, planned-to-the-last-detail event to signify another ending and another beginning in so many lives: parents and offspring, teachers and students, and Ministry of Education officials. All of these lives are now more firmly interrelated in a complexly visceral bond that transcends mere academia.
The scheduled speakers are not perturbed as the pregnant sky comes to cyclical term and delivers from her dark, swollen womb. It is the first of several such births as the afternoon and the event wear on. From principal to ministry officials, to sponsors, to feature speakers, to valedictorian—words take flight in the damp air. There is a passion here and quiet, unblemished pride. No matter what the final outcome, something has been achieved here that words alone cannot adequately describe. It resonates within the innermost core to produce stirrings that are at once gentle and immeasurably powerful, intangible yet palpable. It is reflected equally on faces familiar with the event as on those for whom it is a novelty. Baker and banker, laborer and landlord, policeman and politician, teacher and trucker—all are held captive by the magic of the moment.
The last prize and certificate are finally awarded. Words of send-off are dutifully spoken. Graduands have become graduates. They move around in the gathering dusk in noisy little clusters regaling each other with “Do you remember…?” anecdotes. Dusk turns to dark quickly, almost surreptitiously. They still linger in little groups but are less noisy now, reluctant to say farewell, to finally let go of each other. And when they do, strong, young men weep unashamedly in the presence of their peers, not knowing what the future will bring or how it will affect the bonds that have been forged inside these walls. Then the graduates take a long, last look at the space within the walls of their alma mater before they start the walk on their journey outside these nurturing walls.
Outside these walls, armed with knowledge of Mathematics, English Language and Literature, Sciences, Geography, French, Spanish, Information Technology, Business, and other subject areas, graduates are ready to face the world. Some will move on to advanced level studies, others to tertiary institutions, while the vast majority will seek employment in the ever-dwindling job market. The question is: are they really prepared to face the world?
In this shrinking global village, where fiber-optic and satellite transmitted sounds and images are beamed around the world with mind-boggling speed and frequency; where the focus of our interest is manipulated and influenced by transnational corporations; where the sheer volume of data and information often overwhelms us, do we have, or have we been provided with the appropriate tools by our educational institutions to selectively train our attention on what really matters? In other words, have we been imbued with the requisite skills to take our gaze away from the periphery, block out the extraneous noise and clutter, and focus on the core matter?
What is education? What does it mean to us? Why are we always satisfied with the definitions provided by the so-called first world institutions with hardly a question as to their merit? Why does the primary raison d’etre of education focus on the economic success of the individual rather than his or her entire well-being or that of the community?
Why, with our current model of education, are we at the mercy of the perpetrators of the 2007/2008 global financial, food, and energy crises that are still negatively affecting our economy? Why do so many of our graduates lack a basic understanding of the underlying causes of the global financial meltdown and its crippling worldwide effects, especially on developing nations? Why, in this enlightened 21st century when we’re producing more graduates than ever before, do we fail to appreciate and grasp the full significance of the global warming phenomenon and its potential for disastrous consequences especially for developing countries? Why do we continue pursuing an economic model of development created and driven by western nations when that economic model has not only failed us, but much of the western world as well?
Here’s Thomas Moore, an American writer, on children and education: “An eternal question about children and education is: how should we educate them? Politicians and educators consider more school days in a year, more science and math, the use of computers and technology in the classroom, more exams and tests, more certification for teachers, and less money for art. All of these responses come from the place where we want to make the child into the best adult possible, not in the ancient Greek sense of virtuous and wise, but in the sense of one who is an efficient part of the machinery of society. But on all these counts, soul is neglected.”
What Moore points out is the failure of education and modern society to adequately focus on the entire human being, by exposing him to some pre-designed construct that ostensibly prepares him for success in the world. In this context, if the rationale for churning out graduates in our Third World region continues to stoke the fires of greed and unbridled lust for power and control, we’ll continue to sink in the quagmire created by the ignorant use of our intellect inside and outside the walls of our educational institutions.
Outside these walls, another Renaissance awaits. Amen!
Author’s note: This piece was written after I attended my son’s graduation ceremony at the Vieux Fort Secondary School, Campus B (July, 2011). It is dedicated to the school’s dynamo of a principal, Miss Charmaine Eugene, and Dr. Stephen King, the feature speaker, whose heart is in the right place.