Who needs my French degree and Latin prayers?

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    Here is an interesting article about the times we live in, and the desparation of having an education that doesn’t help one much. Buwembo is a fine narrator, writing novels could be his true calling.

    Monitor August 7, 2009
    Who needs my French degree and Latin prayers?
    Joachim Buwembo

    The dead language of Latin always fascinated me. My late father was an ex-seminarian and taught me many Latin phrases in the process of drumming some discipline and doctrines of hard work into my head. So whenever I attended the old type High Mass, I understood the meanings of the Latin prayers with relish.

    Knowing all those Latin words was nice. But it did not necessarily make me a better Catholic or Christian than others in the congregation who did not know what the words they were reciting meant. The Latin phrases and prayers are like some things students are taught in our high schools and universities, interesting but of little use.

    Every year, hundreds of thousands of students “pass” their O’levels with weak credits but parents, teachers and education investors encourage them to join A’level, to spend another two years learning nice things. At the end of the two years, they “pass” with weak principle passes and are allowed to apply for university courses which do not lead to much, though they are quite interesting.

    I did those courses myself, but the difference is that in those days, the taxpayer was footing my bill, complete with textbook allowance and “boom” pocket money which was spent strictly on partying. I remember when I was looking for a teaching job in up-country Kenya and pulled out my Upper Second Honours degree in French. The headmaster did not even touch it; he said it was as good as a degree in astrology.

    Instead, he liked my A’level Literature grade and hired me for that. After our students have spent five years and many millions of shillings since leaving O’level, they get really disappointed when employers are not impressed by their great qualifications. Meanwhile, the “unfortunate” kids who could not afford A’level but took a course say, in hair-dressing or brick laying become employable or can employ themselves two years later. For there is no place in Uganda that does not need a women’s hair salon or where builders are not needed for the construction works going on all the time.

    I always marvel at the young man I buy fish from somewhere at the roadside between Nakawa and Ntinda. His fresh tilapia costs Shs10,000 and motorists who stop by in the afternoon buy over a hundred pieces per day. The value he adds is to remove the scales and the intestines, and you happily pay the 10K.

    I don’t know what his margin is, but his monthly collection can definitely pay salary for several ‘corporates’ in the city’s boardrooms. But you try and advise your A’level dropout nephew or niece to take Shs50,000 capital and invest in fish vending. They might report you to the clan meeting as an insensitive, mean and malicious uncle or aunt who does not want them to go to university etc…

    As our MPs consider the budget proposals, I pray they ensure the trillion allocated to Education does not go into supporting activities that do not add to the students capability to operate in the economy.

    To this day I still play as I pray during Mass: When they sing the Apostles Creed “I Believe”, I alternate the stanzas in mind between English and Latin then Luganda and Kiswahili then French, while the more disciplined worshipers diligently sing out in one language. It is nice but does not add to the depth of my Christianity. I also enjoy French music and magazines – that is all Uganda gets from the millions it spent on making an graduate of French Literature and Culture; my private enjoyment.


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