Before dawn, while I am still yawning and full of sleep, I see these kids trudging across the street, hunching from the weight of their school bags. I see them rub their eyes, the older one pulling the younger to move faster. Sometimes, it is just the older one, running while peeping at his watch every two minutes. I bet he has missed breakfast today too. 

Sometimes, they leave for school before their parents leave for work. And my heart sinks. 

When did we become okay with this? 

Isn’t this some form of slavery? 

Will children ever be allowed to be children?


When you walk into a therapist’s office, one of the first things they will ask you about is your childhood, regardless of whether you’re there for drug addiction or seeking to resolve your marital problems, or when grieving the loss of a loved one. It is by no chance nor for the sake of striking a conversation do they ask you about where you come from, the dynamics of your family, or even which school you attended. It has everything to do with who we are, how we view the world, and even the manner in which we deal with problems. The nurture debate in developmental psychology is proof enough that the environment in which one grows up in has a significant impact on one’s future. 

Previous research has shown that childhood experiences affect one’s health in their adulthood. Children who experienced several adverse situations are at a higher risk of developing mental illnesses like depression and anxiety, developing substance abuse habits, and detrimental health behaviours as they grow up. The opposite is also true: children who grew up in a positive environment and with supportive families are said to have better health as adults. The effects of one’s childhood don’t end here. Research has also shown that parenting styles are handed over to their children, who then parent their own children in a similar manner. Children who were abused are likely to do the same to their children, and those with unresolved emotional problems become disorganized with unhealthy attachment styles and exhibit more frightening parenting behaviours. It thus becomes a chain of unhealthy behaviours and lifestyles from generation to generation for the majority of families.

How does this relate to our school system? 

Our Kenyan education system is such that a child, of very tender age, starts spending the majority of their time within the school compound. This means that the school environment, the teachers, the schoolmates, have a great influence on a child’s growth, the shaping of their behaviours, and their worldview, sometimes more than their parents.

The truth is, we come from a society that really glorifies hustling and the idea of bending over backward in order to achieve our goals. We’re told, ‘wake up at 2 a.m. to study; arrive at school at 6 a.m. sharp; conduct prep studies until 8 or 9 p.m.: basically, do whatever it takes to be number one in class and with consistency.’ We’re led to believe that the only way to make it in this life is if you continue studying even with a torch while the rest sleep in the dorms. We’re made to think, the more you work, the more you thrive. 

We’re brainwashed to assume that skipping sleep and lying down for just three to four hours makes you a legend. 

We’re talked into believing that it is either now or never, whatever the cost is. 

We glorify the future.

We invite motivational speakers and make children feel that without 400 plus marks (out of a possible of 500 for primary school kids) or an A at the end of secondary education, then you can kiss your dreams and goals goodbye.

Most parents blackmail their children emotionally, with famous statements ranging from ‘I had to walk 20 kilometers to get to school’, to ‘I had to cross the river barefoot every day in order to acquire an education or ‘I used to stay hungry the whole day because we were very poor but I still achieved good grades.’ 

Granted, to some of the previous generations, hardships had to be endured so as to acquire an iota of a decent education. They indeed deserve all the respect for striving so hard. However, the struggle should never be glorified in such a way that we expect our children to also slave in order to achieve what society defines as success.

The past has everything to do with the future. 

And unhealthy beginnings filled with overwhelm, sleeplessness, and wild expectations can never give a child the proper foundation for a future that supports them according to their abilities, talents, and IQ. The pressure placed upon school-going children to succeed later translates to adults working merely to pay bills, with no passion, and many times, filled with sadness. 

Remember when we were young and the adults then would have us believe that we’d finally get to rest after successfully completing our primary school education? And then once we were done, we had to prepare for secondary school where the workload was twice as heavy, coupled with more intense competition for grades and as a result, more hours dedicated to study? 

The teachers would lead us into believing that this is the phase that will determine whether you will ever be somebody in life or remain invisible forever. So, everyone joined tuition or extra-school academic program, including group discussions that went on until after dusk. The non-academic extra-curricular activities were mostly there for show. Physical exercise was done scarcely throughout the year, while life skills classes were taken up as a free lesson to finish assignments. The only active clubs for several schools were drama and debating clubs, which would organize activities only once or twice a year. The only dreams we could afford to have involved Mathematics, Physics, and Chemistry. We were denied family time, with all these assignments and exams always lurking. We would come back home feeling like zombies, with eyes half-open, the only thing we’d want to see is the bed. We would barely have time for madrasa. For anyone who cared to be somebody someday, life was a robotic experience.


I remember when I was in primary school, we had a mathematics teacher I would now call Mr. M. As a form of punishment, he would cane us for every wrong answer in his tests (and those tests were almost on the daily!!). Those who received 98% on the tests were not spared. They would get a cane for giving an incorrect answer to that one question. That also meant if someone got a 50% they would get 25 good strokes!! 

He had this fine and strong cane that he would use on us, and he would cane us right below our thighs with so much vigour that my skin would turn greenish-black. According to Mr. M, this was for our own good. It was the best way to make us improve in maths. However, the only thing it did was make us terrified of him and maths.

Our whole day was spent dreading that it will soon be maths class. 

Other than that, it made us feel less of ourselves. 

When someone jumped or cried whilst being caned, the rest of the class laughed, even when all of us knew we would get a taste of the same cane. So, you can imagine how it must have been like for the students who would get 50% or below, as the whole class watched and laughed at them whilst receiving twenty-five strokes of the cane on their little thighs.

I for one did improve in maths slightly, but in retrospect, it made me hate the subject entirely. It made me detest going to school. I used to have a maths phobia and sometimes before an exam, I would panic about failing the subject. And this went on for my entire life, I would avoid anything that had any math or even had the slightest similarity to the subject. Sometimes I wonder what happened to Mr. M, whether he is really proud that he made us achieve better marks in maths by causing us such unnecessary dread and panic, despite the cheating that was done by some? What exactly is the point of putting these young kids under so much pressure? When will teachers understand that all kids have different abilities? 

I didn’t realize it back then but when I look back now I am convinced that that was plain old-school bullying. Mr. M broke my self-esteem, just like several other teachers along the way. I am not anti-disciplining; I am just anti-bullying. The saddest part is that several of the teachers who were known for their brutality and nastiness don’t even realize how much they have scarred students over the years; some to the extent of making their students detest school, transfer elsewhere, or drop out and gave up entirely…


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Young people are rebellious. Hot-headed. Insubordinate. Secondary school teachers have especially a difficult time dealing with adolescents. Universities are sometimes over-powered by angry youth during riots. They have their demands. They want freedom.

We could never deny the challenges the youth bring into educational institutions. However, one crucial matter that is sometimes overlooked, especially in Kenya, is the kind of influence the teachers have on their students.

It doesn’t matter if one is a secondary teacher, a university lecturer, a home teacher, a trainer, all those in a position to educate young people from the teenage years to adulthood play a very crucial role. They spend most of the time with the youth. They are the ones who get to spot when one is going astray, hanging out with the wrong group, or slacking around.  They are the ones to notice when a child is being discriminated against or picked on or depressed. They are the ones who either become role models to the youth or crush them entirely according to how they deal with them.

The youth are fragile. They are still trying to contemplate what life is all about. They are still shaping their identities. Yet how many times do we see educators being the nightmare to the youth? How many times have we seen educators call students failures or give them embarrassing nicknames or harass them or call out on them for their looks or tribe or their body weight? How many times have we seen educators abuse the youth; emotionally, physically, mentally? How many times have university students failed their exams because they refused to be sexually manipulated by their lecturers? How many youths have been scarred permanently by their educators?

There is this intriguing and thought-provoking story about the Solomon Islands which is in the South Pacific Ocean. The people in the village use quite a unique way of logging; ‘yelling and felling’. So how this goes is that whenever the villagers want to cut down a huge, thick tree, they’d curse and yell at the tree powerfully for thirty days. After this period, the tree surrenders and dies. The villagers believe this method has always worked. When the villagers curse, their whole intent to break the tree’s spirit is so strong that they successfully make it die. While there is no scientific validity to this story, it should make us ponder. Think about this: how powerful are words then that they are able to kill a tree? And if it can kill a tree, what about the spirit of a human that is filled with hopes, dreams, goals, and fears? (The story of Solomon Islands was first mentioned in Bruce H. Lipton’s ‘The Biology of Life’. Read more at https://www.newsgram.com/power-of-words-the-story-of-the-solomon-islands/)

Without a doubt, teaching is a very noble profession. These are the individuals who make us grow and strive for greatness. They are the ones who push us to dream and explore. We could never downplay their very important role in our lives. Yet sometimes, these are the same people who bring us down entirely. Make us detest ourselves. Make us hate the idea of seeking education and want to drop out entirely.

It is indeed high time that our educators, whether in institutions or even in workplaces, are properly evaluated and properly trained on how to deal with human beings using diplomacy rather than abuse. The young people, from teenage years to pre-adulthood are like clay that is still being molded. The clay is in their hands. They have the power to shape it into something extra-ordinary or over-water it till becomes lifeless dirty water.


As you may have noticed, the above does apply to parents as well because they too are educators; the most important ones! It can also apply to each one of us and how we interact with other human beings, sometimes very carelessly. May we always be conscious of how we talk and deal with other people. Ameen.

To every teacher doing their job whole-heartedly and striving to make a difference, however small, we salute you and appreciate you!

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Warning: This is going to be a long one 😉

Everyone can agree that Madrasas make up almost the biggest part of our great childhood memories or perhaps the worst. This is where we got shaped and molded into the characters we are today. How we were shaped however, is a different story. They say, the end justifies the means… or does it? If anything, Madrasas are the best example of this phrase.

Back down the memory lane, most families had neglected the Madrasas. Secular education was given the priority giving minimal time for the children to adopt Madrasa teachings. This in turn made the children consider Madrasa as ‘not-so-serious’ a place. It was like the damp spot where parents would take them on weekends so that they don’t bother people back home.

If you ask anyone about their Madrasa days they’ll mention a lot of punishments where students were subjected to individually or as a group. First mistake would always be ‘getting late’ because hey! It’s weekend! The entire family is going for a wedding somewhere and you spent an entire hour crying why you are being left behind while they’ll be enjoying some good biryani with roasted chicken. So you get to the gate, eyes red and swollen and you find a whole group standing aside while the assembly is going on. You become a bit relieved that you are not alone. However, once the assembly is over and the teacher on duty confronts you, he surprises you all by checking the uniform instead or whether your nails are clipped. So you end up with double punishment. But it never ends there does it? You somehow end up in the noisemakers list in class and the ustadh gives you ‘THAT look’ of ‘Too many mistakes in one morning young boy’!

There was always a lot of fun associated with all the mischief which involved incomplete assignments and ending up doing the assignment at the corridor, making fun of other students or rhythmic and loud reading during classes; which more often than not irritated the teachers, a lot of skiving where one or a collective group would go out for lunch break and decide not to come back because you decided that your family will not go for that wedding without you, a lot of ‘tell your parent to come tomorrow’ because let’s face it the teachers were having up to their necks dealing with stubborn kids.

Coming back to class late was a norm because you got caught up in the games you were playing or were waiting in line for your potatoes and other snacks to be prepared; and so when you reach the class you know what’s waiting inside so you all stand by the door deciding who was bold enough to ask for permission to get in. Then there were those days we’d be sent home because we had applied henna on Eid day despite it being against madrasa rules or for the lack of payment of fees on time…yeah the list is endless!

In attempt to change the ‘relaxed-mode’ children had on madrasa, the teachers always opted to cane the naughty children, especially with the famous kikoto (A local type of cane commonly made in Coastal region by use of Reeds.)

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When it came to the need for students to learn, caning only brought fear into them making them memorize things they don’t understand in the least bit. My mother tells me of how when they were young, they’d go to madrasa sit in straight lines and start singing what they’ve been taught, swinging themselves frontward and backward. How they’d put small pieces of kashatas between the mashaf pages then come back and start eating them piece by piece while the ustadh is not looking. They’d then quickly go back to chorusing with the rest, turning their oily mashaf pages. It seemed all merry when the whole class was chorusing like that…but now many years later, she confesses that then, she, and many others did not even know what they were saying. The caning only prompted them to cram something so that whenever the teacher asks a question, they had an answer. Nonetheless, the caning was fruitful when it came to hifdhul qur’an (memorization of the holy qur’an).

So basically, punishments differed on 3 factors: The teacher himself, the personality of the student and the kind of mistake done.

We all had some experience with the ‘bad news’ ustadh who you’d carefully avoid on the way even if you’ve done nothing wrong. He is always ready to cane; always ready to strike; always armed with his kikoto. Yet others would go for other less violent kind of punishments like making the students kneel, making them stand the whole session, pinching, sweeping, squatting, washing the washrooms, cleaning corridors, extra assignments, calling of the parent or being detained from going to tea/lunch break.

This however also differed according to the child in question. For some children just the mere mention of ‘I’ll cane you’ is enough to scare them and make them do the right thing. They’d weep like no one’s business if you even jokingly mention that you’ll summon the parent. Yet another child is so used to the canning that it doesn’t matter anymore. It’s routine now and thus, doesn’t mould them in anyway. Sometimes, it even made the students become more rebellious and beating them was as useless as screaming on their faces. But this same naughty child if detained from going to have lunch, he tends to settle down. A lazy child would detest being given extra assignment and that would be the perfect punishment for him/her.

When it comes to collective mistake i.e. the whole class making noise, or late comers, the teacher would ask them to sweep the classroom or wash the loos for the older students. For some children, telling them to go out of the class as punishment acts as the best thing for them. It turns out to be ‘free-class-to-have-fun’ oh yeah, and to make more mischief. So the child’s personal character always factored in the kind of punishment.

How the child/children are punished depended on the kind of mistake too. For a mistake like late-coming, the punishment would be lesser than the ones who got into a fight. Or noise-makers compared to the ones skiving classes.

The teachers would always use the small punishment methods and only when things really escalated is when the parent is summoned.

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It’s no secret that Madrasa punishment is better than school (before the anti-punishment law came in). Yet still, there were/are parents who still go to complain once their children are canned or in the least, touched at all. The parents would sometimes respond to complaints from the Madrasa by transferring their child to another institution which ends up making the child always half-baked with information and sometimes in character too.

We all have experienced or at least witnessed the dramatic parents who are always so protective and just at the slightest caning of their child, they’d appear at the institution and start shouting to whoever they can throw words to, threatening to report to the police if their children are canned again yet they are in the first place responsible for the negligence the children have on Madrasa. If the parents showed the children how important Madrasa is, the mischief would be less and they’d be more serious on Madrasa education.

Punishment systems have changed over the years. This could be because the teachers realized that they are using the wrong approach in the desperate need of making students prioritize Madrasa studies. Nowadays, there is less caning. We can’t say it has stopped completely but teachers are more and more adopting the alternative punishment systems like giving them extra assignments or sweeping classes and corridors amongst other methods. Different Madrasas have also tried different ways to make Madrasa more interesting for children i.e. including extra-curricular activities and trips too. They also involve the parents a lot more than before on the issues of their children.

The best move Madrasa systems have taken, however, is ensuring that their teachers undergo teachers’ training before stepping into class. This is unlike before whereby anyone with the knowledge could teach regardless of whether they knew how to handle the mentality of children or not. Some Madrasas would let the older kids teach the younger ones just because they had a little more knowledge than the little ones, or the smarter kids would teach the other kids when a teacher was not around. So now we have better teachers who have studied psychology of the children and are able to deal with them in the right way.

The punishments have been the better evil for many of us. Apart from the notorious students whom we’d tell ‘haskii la mwadhini wala mteka maji mskitini’ to, many owe their good discipline to the Madrasa teachers who ensured they behave. Many of us wouldn’t even know how to recite Surat Fatiha if not for the canning. The punishments done in Madrasa have mostly been moderate apart from a few cases and they seem necessary in order to straighten the children up.

Apart from that, we got the many memories from these days; the days we did mistakes and cried even before the teacher raised the cane, or the days we knelt down until our knees ached, or when we were late and were sent back home; half happy half miserable, or those days when someone stole and we’d have soot applied on his face (someone mentioned this and couldn’t help but imagine and laugh). As much as we as a community have undermined the Madrasa for so long, we have to admit that we learnt good lessons and became better people from what we learnt back then.

I know some really hate the memories they have of back then or of the entire madrasa system, and some would enthusiastically want to debate this whole punishment issue, nonetheless, I guess at the end of the day it is only each one of us who can judge and perceive those days as they will. Everyone is entitled to their opinion after all.

In my opinion, there is improvement and gradual process in the Madrasa systems which hopefully will make more students serious on the deen education which has been comprised for so long. As for the punishments (the moderate reasonable ones that is), I hope they still stay in the system until the later generations. In the current dark world, we need a system that will still humble us and mold us to be better individuals.

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There are many people in this world who are successful, who have been successful, who know the taste of success yet just a few know the taste of progress, consistency and prosperity. You have become the doctor the always wanted to become now what next? You have always wanted to own your own business, now you do. Yes you have succeeded. But after that is there any progress? Is your dream bringing in goodies like you expected? You have passed university level with flying colours…but where is the job? It is therefore one thing to succeed and quite another to be blessed in what you do.

There is the famous saying that goes like, ‘it is the little things that matter.’ Yes, even in success, it is the little, small, tiny gestures of humanity, love and humility that keeps pushing us the ladder. Let me mention to you a few things that isn’t taught to us yet it should.

1.Your parents; they are your secret weapon, secret key to success of all kinds. Whether it is to pass your exams, get a job, get a promotion, get a good spouse, have a beautiful life here and the hereafter too…all lies in how you treat and deal with your parents. It may be something you don’t see directly; they are not the ones to literally grant you the promotion or miraculously make your exam results turn out great but it is all a matter of how pleased and happy they are with you. Yes, I mean it. Be a good child. Remember your parents all the time. Make them happy, not by showering them with money, but by giving them your quality time, by helping them, by loving them, by showing them that you care for them more than your phone or your corny girlfriend/boyfriend.

Have you ever seen an educated person with a good job yet is still miserable? Have you seen an intelligent, brilliant student yet they still struggle to pass? Well they could be having other troubles but trust me, when your parents are pleased with you, you will see how things will work out easily. You will see how God will shower you with blessings from all corners and you wonder how. Ever seen two siblings, one who has succeeded in their education and maybe is wealthy too yet the drop-out reaches a higher level of success and attainment of happiness? It doesn’t matter what your religion is, as a matter of fact, all faiths have always insisted about parents and how we should always be kind to them. So this is it. You want to succeed in this life and the next? Please your parents. Never underestimate their prayers for you or the smile that you put on their face. And by the way, the more difficult your parents are to please, the more blessed you become. Do it tirelessly. Help them sincerely with a lot of love. And when you do this, always put the intention that you want God to bless your life for your actions towards your parents. Try this out. I promise by God’s will, you will see a change in your life!

2.Your teachers, your lecturers, your tutors…you name it; they also play a big role to ensure your progress but only if you prove to them that you are worth it. Most of us when we get to high school level and university, we tend to believe that our teachers are useless. We mock them, give them ugly nicknames, judge them by how  they dress etc etc. It is usually all part of the ‘school fun’ as some would name it. But besides that all, your teacher deserves respect from you however mean, ugly, dirty, foolish, awkward they are. They deserve your respect for their title, ‘teacher’. You may not really get this but intelligence is not the secret to success trust me. Teachers are very observant and keen on every students’ behaviour. They appreciate hardworking students, humble and those who appreciate them too. Sometimes you may wonder why a teacher is close to a weak student in performance yet it is because this particular student is treating the teacher with respect and  appreciation. And this particular weak student is the same one you will meet years later driving a Mercedes and you remain mouth agape asking how!

Let me tell you how. The teacher saw the student’s potential plus the great respect, he ended up giving this student all the words of wisdom, the secret formulas, the way out of difficult situations, the empowerment he needed. And even years after this weak student has graduated, every single opportunity this teacher comes across, whom do you think will he contact? The arrogant intelligent student or the weak humble and hardworking student? I am not telling you to love them, talk to them 24/7, bring them gifts or visit them every weekend. I am saying, treat them well however stupid, mean, ugly they look. keep their contacts safely. Ask for their advise whenever you need it. Ask for help whenever you are stranded. Ask for their ideas, opinions and criticisms even after you are done with that level of education. Teachers appreciate being acknowledged by their students and I promise they will do the same for you. You will be the first person they call whenever a good opportunity arises. And this is one of the things I’ve never regretted. I have the phone numbers of different teachers from primary level to university. It has done nothing to me but good. You should try it!

3.Stop being narcissistic and believing that no one can do it better than you, that you are always right and that you   are your own mentor. Find inspiration from out there. There is always ALWAYS someone better than you in what you do or look or even think. So cut this drama of, ‘I am thee best.’ Sweetheart, thee best is definitely not you or anyone else. There is always going to be someone one step or ten steps ahead of you. Learn to be humble. Accept positive criticisms. Ask for help when stranded. Listen to other people’s opinions and thoughts. Learn from others. Accept your mistakes. Accept when someone else is right and not you. Seek and reach out to all kind of people. That is what makes the successful one become MORE progressive.

4.NEVER underestimate the dunderhead, the slow learner, the thick headed, the uneducated, the less educated than you are, the poor, the man seated on the street…just never underestimate anyone. We believe that education is not only the one that we learn and study in class, but there is the greater knowledge of life that none can comprehend better than these people who’ve known failure, hunger and struggle. The cobbler on the pavement of the street could give you a great idea about your business, your house help could have experience in something that you don’t, your child or younger ones could have brilliant thoughts that could help you. So always look out and listen keenly to anyone who has an idea, a thought, a suggestion, an opinion or criticisms. Never choose whom to listen to. Open up to everyone who can bring positive changes to your life. You don’t have to follow what everyone says but what do you lose if you listen to them all? All you have to do is listen then filter the important information and the unimportant, the great ideas from the lousy ones. There…did you lose anything? NO. So??

My friend, being successful is difficult, hard, a tough journey but being consistent and progressive is even tougher and it is by such small things in life that create the whole difference. So don’t just aim at being successful. Aim at being continuously successful; more success by the day.