Saturday, March 12, 2011

STAREHE's PERFORMANCE 2010 by Waga Odongo

As written by Waga Odongo on Wednesday, 09 March 2011 at 11:37. Editing by yours truly, the chef.

Four years of education are usually reduced to a series of numbers and a letter for the students. This letter is the aggregate sum of all your experience, triumphs and successes; it will now determine your next step. That one letter is all there is to it; your life in high school isn’t even worth a syllable. Just an uppercase letter, occasionally flanked by a basic arithmetic sign.

The numbers are not good. For someone else maybe, but most definitely not them. There were 24 boys in the top hundred in '08. 13 in '09 and one just now.  You can officially plot the school's downward vector of a curve through time in a line graph. The graph would be a visual display of the number of banks signing up for G4S’s money courier service. It’s just a matter of time before the word crisis is thrown about. Their lone representative in the century wasn’t even in the top fifty, but sitting at number fifty eight - the wrong half of the century - surrounded by a sea of students whose numbers were not introduced by the number 400004.

 The Starehe Boys' index number is unique because it is a palindrome. Further numerological proof of the schools primacy, and brilliance for the superstitious.

At their best there were imperious, once producing 49 of the top 100 in Nairobi Province - I was one of them. But now, even in their own stomping ground, they couldn’t secure any of the top ten positions in the province, going all the way to the -teens before the first among them made an appearance.  Even Starehe Girls - which is Starehe boys with all the gangly bits lopped off and all the jagged edges covered in high density foam - had beaten them. When I was there three years ago, I recall their director making a speech saying that they were not yet at the same level as the boys and couldn’t sit the same Mock exams as the boys. They weren’t at the boy’s level alright...they had cleanly beaten them.

Dr. William Geoffrey Griffin

Dr William Geoffrey Griffins- O.B.S (awarded by Jomo Kenyatta), O.G.H. (awarded by Daniel Moi), O.B.E by Queen Elizabeth II in 2002 
The founding director’s fear used to be that the public would pounce on any perceived drop in either discipline or scholarship to say that “Starehe is going down.” He warned his boys against it constantly.

Latch on it they did. One headline hailed it as the worst performance by the school since 1959. That headline is either proof of very good cherry picking or a case of very poor research. Starehe has had worse results in the past. Granted, it was earlier on, before it made a name for itself. 2002 is another example.

A local TV news vignette swooped in for the kill and tried to link the sudden downturn to the passing of the founder member. The short piece was about as objective as the Spanish inquisition, constantly angling for shots of students looking dejected at their forbearers results. The piece was both otiose and lumpen; an overstatement of the real condition, trying to trace a pattern from unrelated events and going for the easy narrative. The maker of that TV mockumentary should take up his calling and move on to make propaganda films for North Korea’s regime where his talents for spinning yarn will be in high demand.

The results were good, it had thirty or so A's. This would have been a boon the likes to cause riotous celebration for many. Maranda were celebrating when their A's were upgraded from 29 to 30 after the bungling of music results. But when you are Starehe Boys Centre, 30 A's feels like a loss. A bad loss. When I was there we had over double the number of A's and nine less than triple that number. Scramble the boys, cue the sackcloth and fly the griffin (the flag has a griffin, does it not?) at half mast. It is not that it was a loss, it was how we  - I’m sorry for a second I forgot I am an old boy now; they lost, that pains.

Starehe has won the Chemistry trophy on the trot for over ten years. It was our keepsake; a permanent fixture in the chemistry department. Starehe used to get an excess of a hundred A’s in the subject; in fact the head of department once christened it “The first A you acquire on your way to the rest.”

My friend Frank Midega used to claim that the only place to find better teenage chemists skilled in deft handling of hazardous chemicals was in Al Qaeda training camps. This year, the trophy ours by right after so long is on loan to Alliance High after they beat Starehe to the top spot. Just like drug addicts we have a chemical dependency on that trophy. The chemistry equation has been unbalanced after so long. The Physics trophy which has regularly found shelter in the school has also been usurped by Kenya High - they probably have built a shrine for it by now. The Founding director used to joke that at the rate at which the school was accumulating accolades, he will need an extension to his office since inside it he was surrounded by more shiny metal than Mike Mbuvi Sonko on the campaign trail.

Telegraph Christmas Charity Appeal: the school that opens doors for Kenya's brightest, but poorest, children

This year the plans for the expansion can be shelved as the school was conspicuously absent in the national honours list.

Only 3 African countries are in Round Square.
The dearth in top performers was further accentuated by the fact that our academic adversaries Alliance did so well. They had 30 students in the top 100, won four subject trophies and posted a higher mean score than Starehe has ever done. Griffin usually said that it was acceptable and understandable to lose out to Precious Blood (not that he encouraged bending over to a suitcase of a school) but not Alliance. Blood were a tiny provincial school, not with same diverse geo-socio and economic diversity and considerations of a national school.

So what went wrong? For starters I can tell you what didn’t. It wasn’t because of Griffins' passing. Frankly I find all those who insinuate this abhorrent view to be racist. The implication often is that left to their own devices Africans will descend into nepotism, tribalism and corruption and lead to collapse of the school.  Griffin in his twilight years was no longer involved in the academic administration of the school and served as an overseer rarely delving into the details of running the school.  Hence his unfortunate passing had little effect on the school's performance; in fact immediately after he passed on the results improved with the school taking top honours in 2006.

Under the influence of number crunching computers (which have bungled results twice in four years), we have returned to that forensic audit of drawing up ordinal lists to show how the good keep getting better and the average and bad remain in the ignominy of obscurity.

Ranking schools after KCSE is grossly unfair. It shows how mostly established schools in wealthy areas trounce schools in areas with high social deprivation. I sense a bit of mischief in the decision to reintroduce the ranking system 6 years after it was sensibly consigned to the dustbins of failed policy. That a government should decide to flip on its own policy in a year where there was a marked diversification in the names in the top ten makes one wonder whether the results are not being used for petty political point scoring. Or whether any government policy has any permanence or consequence or they are all ephemeral, to be altered and revoked at will.  Naming and shaming schools in a list created a sort of academic arms race, where an elite clutch of schools scrambled to get the best students from KCPE and churn them out later on years later as their own.

The truth is that the Kenyan system has a high retain rate. Those who do well in KCPE almost always end up topping KCSE list. The top student in KCPE ‘03 was number 15 nationally in KCSE 07. Top candidate in '04 was number 2 nationally in 08. The top candidate in ’05 was number 4 in ’09. The key to getting ahead in KCSE is getting the best from KCPE.

There was claim that this lot was indeed a weak one. But this seems statistically improbable since intelligence is almost uniformly distributed in a population and across generations. Starehe has a sort of first refusal right in choosing new candidates for the school; it has a parallel yellow form system where application to the school is direct and not through a proxy as other schools. This is because about 70% of the students are sponsored by benefactors. A few students who attained the acceptable grade are allowed to join as fee paying students. Maybe the top performers nowadays favour the wildness of Alliance to the pristine manicured quadrangles of Starehe.

Perhaps since I left three years ago the systems have been diluted, I doubt this because the present principal (who was also my Physics teacher) is a brilliant Pragmatist who is willing to trade other whole subsections of the Starehe Social experience to ensure that more time is devoted to the core business of engineering academic business. I believe that his management the Starehe educational effort can only be fine tuned into a more efficient enterprise.

Perhaps they were resting on our laurels. Starehe has an interesting remedial system that aims at the top and the bottom leaving the large middle untended to. The top is sharpened and made better while the weaker flanks are covered. This follows the reasoning that it is hard to get much differences in marks in the core middle who tend to lump together mid-table in the standings.

Perhaps can we also ask whether, the factors behind Starehe metrioric fall from grace are beyond those the span of control of those on General Waruinge Street. The result of having one boy in the top hundred was abysmally dismal and indeed unfathomable and makes me question whether factors to do with the exam grading were in play.

Perhaps this was an off year, a speed bump on the highway of success. Alliance had one in 2007 (which made our success doubly satisfying) Strathmore had one in 2006 and Mangu have one every year that isn’t 2007.  Perhaps this was our Annus horribilis and normal chart topping performance will resume after this unnecessary interregnum.

However the old boys, we old boys who grow more attached to the centre where we became men than when we were there must ask questions of the management and not take the path of lily-livered white flag waving capitulation that many of my own classmates have taken in the wake of the performance. Starehe is as I last heard in capable hands academically we need not worry too much about it.

*Starehe makes half the Kenyan membership of only 3 African Round Square countries. To read more on the Round Square conference of schools, click here
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You, Nelson Onyango, Frank Midega and 11 others like this.

    • Frank Midega ‎...Jus a slip, we'l for sure be back at the top....hehe,the mangu comment, still craacks me up!
      Wednesday at 15:56 · · 1 person

    • Yule Mbois Mndialala
      That opening lead is brilliant bruv. And I agree, we oughta become proactive in our analysis of the situation. Which is why I intend to post this on my and every other willing blog - heavily edited, I might add :-D

      Ain crazy for conspiracy theory, but I'll admit it looks at the very least convincing.

      'Abysmally dismal' was a nice touch. Halla wen yo back in Nai.

      Wednesday at 15:56 ·

    • Yule Mbois Mndialala Ps: The admin has to take some blame. Such a drastic fall from Grace's bossom cannot be blamed on the inexperienced bunch that woos the paper every November. It has to go to the players up top, coz they'v squeezed that same bosom so many times before n made her scream with delirious pleasure. Oh n pps: I hear the min payment for poor boys is now 40k per year. Any truth in that?
      Wednesday at 16:10 ·

    • Frank Midega Ah gas! R u [blanking] serious?
      Wednesday at 16:11 ·

    • Yule Mbois Mndialala My boy lost his dad back in 01. Both his broz are now in Starch, one's a raboli. Ma doesn work so it's the bro crumb-winning. He tells me he pays a combi of 80k for both now. Least he patad a sponsorship for the younger one now.
      Wednesday at 16:16 ·

    • Nelson Onyango Great piece! Funny too. I was at Starehe in January to visit and it was amazingly sad how things have changed there...of course change was inevitable after the Director crisis, but again, this is a minor setback...if we lead too often, the others might forget what success tastes like. I am not worried, we WILL bounce back...harder.
      Wednesday at 22:53 · · 2 people

    • Tiffany Boo How long did it take you to write this????
      Yesterday at 10:33 · · 1 person

    • Theodore Onyango ‎'Nine less than tripple that number...
      Precious Blood - A suitcase of a school'

      Man the bile that you sh!t out of your system is totally off the charts, even a bloody doctor would say you are beyond help...

      23 hours ago ·

    • Waga Odongo Thank you all. Took me the thick end of 3hours to write it.
      22 hours ago ·

    • Tiffany Boo Good job you have a talent n am happy you r using it.
      20 hours ago ·

    • Theodore Onyango Why does it sound to me like Tiffany's being sarcastic...
      Anyway, it's just a sound. Maybe my hearing isn't that good...

      19 hours ago ·

    • BlackIntense Rapoet fantastic piece of literature.
      14 hours ago ·

    • Jedidah Wanja Ey i lyyk.. Nice.
      14 hours ago ·

    • Edward Nyatti Mbogo on point dude!i 2nd Nelson..them boyz gon bounce back!
      10 hours ago ·

1 comment:

  1. Kicheko cha hali ya kuchekelewa...I won't ask. Cheers lakini bantutu. The man above does know how to hate...that much is for sure


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