In 2013, I wrote an article on Mr Msampha Mwale, then 72 years old, who was a pupil at a secondary school in Lilongwe rural. He told me at that time that he was preparing to write his JC examinations and wanted to proceed to MSCE. His ambition was that after obtaining an MSCE qualification he would enrol at the Theological College at Nkhoma to become a pastor.
I have no doubt that what drove this gentleman were the four Ds—desire, determination, dedication and discipline. He had to harbour a strong desire within him to acquire basic education, without which he would easily have been discouraged on account of his age. He also needed to be determined to attend classes daily and do his homework. Many challenges would have taken him off his focus but he defied them all, thanks to his unswerving determination. Dedication kept him going because he was focused and committed to his cause. All this had to be capped with discipline, doing what needed to be done in a manner it was supposed to be done.
I have said elsewhere that those that have the ambition to achieve anything at all in life need to be guided by these four Ds. The last D is a value that is no longer widely respected in Malawi. Little wonder we have had increasing cases of cheating in national examinations in recent years. Little wonder, too, that far too many people want to have wealth without working for it. Without discipline, we will not get anywhere as a nation. These values must be inculcated in our young people at an early age for them to be achievers.
When I wrote about Msampha Mwale, I said he was probably the oldest pupil in the world. I did not know that somebody had already entered the Guinness Book of Records as the world’s oldest pupil. It was Kimani Maruge of Kenya who enrolled for Grade One at Kapkenduiywo Primary School, Eldoret, Kenya in 2004 aged 84. Sadly, Maruge attended school for just five years and passed died in 2009, aged 89.
As if trying not to be outdone, another Kenyan, a lady called Priscilla Sitienei, believed to be 92 is now in Grade Four at a school near Eldoret. No records of her birth exist, but it is believed she was born in 1923, the year famine plagued her hometown.
It is amazing that octogenarians and nonagenarians would opt to go to school when people under 20 in Malawi feel too old to go to school. One never gets too old to go to school. The three people I have mentioned above are individuals that missed the opportunity to go to school in their prime time. They later made the hard, but important decision to make good, in the process showing us that it can be done.
Parents and guardians should be encouraged by these elderly individuals who have been attending primary and secondary school. It is the duty of every parent or guardian to create the desire in any child to go to school. I once discussed the challenges in matrilineal communities where fathers do not have any meaningful attachment to their children. But even in such communities, deliberate effort needs to be made to infuse sufficient desire in the children to go to school. Once they have the desire, they must next attain the determination, the dedication and the discipline to keep them going. It always helps to have role models that the children can look up to and try to imitate. Let those that have achieved some level of success in education frequently talk to the children and inspire them to set lofty goals and work towards them.
This may be a hard teaching for those who regard education as a passport to a good job. They will find it hard to appreciate that a person in their nineties should go school. Who would employ such an individual?
The purpose of education should be to extend one’s boundaries of knowledge first and foremost. In so doing, one may be positioning themselves at an advantage on the labour market but that should only be regarded as a spin off. I know of several people that got PhD qualifications after retiring from active service. They have not gone back to the labour market, but they cherish their qualifications nonetheless. n