Karaoke night; proof that neurosurgeons and engineers can’t sing

Mike Kipkorir Bill, Senior Consultant

22 March 2016

Several years ago when Safaricom and Kencell were having their ideological war over per-second and per-minute billing, I was a thin and overconfident teenager in high school. Kenya at the time was both a sad and interesting place to live. We thought the twenty shilling coin was the most wondrous thing ever, a mobile phone was the size (and shape) of an AK-47 rifle and ladies wore baggy jeans.

School was equally sad and interesting because whereas our lunch had a healthy mix of maize, beans, weevils and small rocks, we were allowed to share it with girls from the neighbouring school, whom we could invite every weekend. For a teenage boy that was heaven on earth, and God bless those girls because how they looked at my thin pimpled face and then accepted a lunch date on a hard wooden bench, in a smelly dining hall, eating small rocks and insects, I don’t know.

Curculionoidea or weevil as you may commonly know it. A steady part of boarding school diet.

Photograph from Pexels

My academic life was not the best. My interests varied wildly and I could never quite tell what I was good at. The school instituted a religious emphasis on Science subjects and belittled the Arts and Humanities. The message was simple, if you didn’t know the meaning of “subtending an angle on the circumference of an arc”, you were worthless.

And worthless I did feel because hardly anything was working well for me: My face looked like a lava field with pimples popping out all over. My voice was trying to break out and I agonised each day over the slow progress of my growing beard. I had also met a girl at an event and I was waiting (up to this day) for a reply to a steamy letter I’d written. In the midst of all this I was being shouted at for doing quite badly in Chemistry and Biology and being asked to stop doing the only things I truly enjoyed – participating in club activities and playing basketball.

“The notion at the time was that being a brilliant science student guaranteed you a life of Ferraris, helicopters and expensive suits.”

The notion at the time was that being a brilliant science student guaranteed you a life of Ferraris, helicopters and expensive suits. So we were forced to put on our plate a healthy serving of all the science subjects and allowed to garnish it with some History or Music just to make up the numbers. The result was thousands of students going through High School feeling worthless and feeling even worse when the examination results came out.

As much as I appreciate the efforts of our teachers and parents at the time to get all of us into Ferraris, I must say that the thinking was flawed and downright dangerous. The thinking that anything unscientific can be done with no education at all and when you have completely failed in life.

Sir Ken Robinson, in his YouTube talk titled “Educating the heart and mind” argues this excellently: “The mistake we make is that we look at the Arts as something recreational, not that hard and could as well be done by anybody at any time”. And we know this is true because karaoke nights are full of biophysical neurosurgical piloting engineers who torture the microphone and cause everyone’s ears to bleed with their dreadful singing.

Causing everyone’s ears to bleed with their dreadful singing.

Photograph via Pexels

We need to recognise the fact that the world depends on a diversity of talents and each of these talents must be natured through education. And our schools already have this in place, only that we call it extra-curricular (Sir Ken Robinson said this, I am not this clever). Why? Why do we let students flirt with music, drama, agriculture and business and then withdraw them from it to lecture them on the properties of methyl-butyl alcohol? Why is extra-curricular not part of curricular?

Am afraid it is because collectively as a country we have failed to distinguish between academic, professional and vocational education. The prestige of white collar academic life and university education has eaten into the education system so much such that kindergarten kids wear university style graduation gowns at the end of every year as they ‘graduate’ into primary school. How sad is that? We have reduced the entire education system into a series of qualifying hurdles to university – to be a scientist.

In Belgium for example, the distinction is clear. After primary education, a student has a choice of four types of secondary school: General Schools for those inclined to theoretical areas of study such as mathematics, economics and history. Technical Schools for those who are technically inclined Vocational schools for trades such as carpentry, mechanics and jewelers and Art Schools for those gifted in graphical, musical or performance arts. The result is an extremely efficient and effective service industry full of highly educated people. You know your plumber understands plumbing and you are confident your car mechanic is not seeing a car for the first time ever.

“I would also like parents to stop adopting the look of someone who has been stabbed with a blunt stick when their children announce intentions to become dancers”

Right now though, the mentality has changed a little bit. Parents and teachers have realised that it is possible to make a good life out of natural talents. McDonald Mariga and his brother Victor are significantly rich from kicking a ball in Europe, being a radio presenter is lucrative and we are forever reading stories of bankers leaving their jobs to rear dairy cattle. I also like the fact that we are rebranding – farming is now agribusiness and you are no longer a cook but a gourmet chef. Brilliant!

What I would like to see is an education system that appreciates diversity. A system that encourages and facilitates children to pursue their interests and a system that recognises that examinations are not the sum total of a human being. I would also like parents to stop adopting the look of someone who has been stabbed with a blunt stick when their children announce intentions to become dancers and instead offer guidance and let children discover what they want out of this life.

I am not for one second implying that science and mathematics is rubbish because I for one have a Bsc in Mathematics and Computer Science. What I am asking for is a healthy respect in school for all other professions, vocations and academic trades because human beings are the embodiment of diversity.

I for example am the jack-of-all-trades type. I appreciate science and mathematics to the point that I have a degree and a career out of it, but I absolutely love the arts, philosophy, language and humanities. I spend days on YouTube watching shadow theatre groups like Attraction. I marvel at the talent of Kenyan freestyle rappers like Khaligraph and I’ve spent whole nights watching Adolf Hitler on the Discovery Channel. I like the way Philosophy boggles the mind it does not come better than Robert M. Pirsig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.

My role therefore, even in my science-based career, is that of playing in between the lines of science and the rest of the world, seeing how either side could benefit the other. It is how I found my calling in Consultancy where I get to do a little bit of everything everywhere. That was never an option in school.

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