Walking the red carpet of my students’ competence

Buganda Kingdom

Nyati crew after interviewing Buganda Kingdom Prime Minister Charles Peter Mayiga for the 'Tuko Pamoja' series.

Photo credit: Pool

What you need to know:

  • Last Saturday, June 1st 2024, I literally walked the red carpet as a film star.
  • This was at the launch of “Tuko Pamoja,” in which I feature as one of the performers.

One of the most satisfying parts of my ongoing celebration of my longevity is the joy I derive from following the spectacular successes and performances of my former students.

It would be invidious to mention names, as “success” seems to be the defining star on the breast of squads of my former charges.

Within the past few years, for example, I have marvelled at the reality of my having “taught” two Vice-Chancellors, Prof Aaron Mushengyezi of the Uganda Christian University, and the Reverend Canon Prof Jane Wangari Mwai of the Presbyterian University of East Africa.

Last Saturday, June 1st 2024, I literally walked the red carpet as a film star. This was at the launch of a film, a 13-part docuseries titled “Tuko Pamoja” (we are one/together), in which I feature as one of the performers.

The film is, largely, an oral history of present-day Uganda, and its main theme is that, despite the large variety of the communities that make up the national entity today, we are basically one people. We lived close to one another and interacted intimately in many ways, many centuries before colonialism “forced” us together.

The film was conceived and directed by Dr Cindy Evelyn Magara, a cineaste with the Nyati Motion Pictures and a lecturer in film and literature at Makerere University.

Dr Magara was one of my early students on my return to Makerere, but I only taught her Literature and Orature, and nothing about films. But she always had a keen interest in the area, and after her Master’s degree at Makerere, she proceeded to Australia, where she specialised in film, honing her skills for her now evidently promising career.

The venue of the red-carpet film premiere was the Ndere Centre in the Ntinda suburbs of Kampala.

It is a top-notch performance and entertainment facility founded and managed by Dr Stephen Rwangyezi, regarded by many as a legendary hero of Uganda’s and indeed East Africa’s indigenous performance. Rwangyezi, too, was a student of mine at the then-Music Dance and Drama Department at Makerere. Since I cannot sing or dance, I think I taught him acting and scripting.

Soon after graduation from Makerere, Rwangyezi started his Ndere (flute) Troupe, which has performed and continues to perform around the world. I do not remember teaching Rwangyezi anything about being an impresario or a showbiz entrepreneur, about which I do not know anything anyway.

Educate the young

Still, my heart warms up (and maybe my head swells a little) whenever I step into the Ndere Centre and the great man welcomes me and introduces me to all and sundry as his Mwalimu. 

How do you teach and prepare a young person to be a future Vice-Chancellor, film director or international theatre director?

I heard recently that my former star performer at Kenyatta University’s Creative and Performing Arts Centre, Dr Hamisi Babusa, has launched his own TV channel, Babusa TV.

He and his amazingly vigorous team of “Babusa Kids” are entertaining and educating us with their series of songs and dances. Their “Song of Kenyan Communities” is, think, a classic of creativity.

You probably know that “competency” and competence” have been, and still are, keenly on my mind, as indeed on the mind of many parents and educationists, ever since we adopted the “CBC”, competency-based curriculum.

Those of us who have been long enough on the educational and pedagogic scene are aware of the many experiments that have been carried out, since ancient times, in the best ways to teach and educate the young.

The purpose in all the experiments is to produce individuals best suited to life and service in their societies.

You have in recent times, for example, heard of “learner-centred” education, STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) approaches and our now highly touted “CBC”.

The mechanisms behind the approaches are the latest social and technological developments and the educators’ perceptions of the opportunities and challenges that these offer and pose for the rising generation.

Educational philosophers and planners observe these and then formulate and propose the pedagogical paths we should take.

The proposals are often in the form of reports and, at government level, “white papers”, which are then passed on to educational administrators and us teachers for implementation.

Eminent educationist

In East Africa we may remember the Ominde Report of 1965, which laid the foundation for post-independence education in Kenya. Later, the Mackay Report of 1981 ushered in the now-fading 8-4-4 system.

In Uganda, the Kajubi Report of 1992 proposed, among other things, the teaching of Kiswahili in schools, a sound policy that is only being implemented today.

The late Kajubi, an eminent educationist, was twice Vice-Chancellor of Makerere and he later founded one of the country’s first private universities, the very respectable Nkumba University, near Entebbe.

I most vividly remember his addressing us at the University of Nairobi after the 1979 ouster of Idi Amin, begging us Ugandan academics who had flocked to Kenya to go home and participate in the reconstruction effort.

Back to competency, I suppose it is not an entirely new concept. The ability to cope and perform adequately in real life situations is a basic requirement of any functional formation.

Competency may not always be measurable in concrete, quantifiable terms, but perceptive and critical engagement with reality is probably the most useful competency that liberal arts teachers like me may contribute to the life skills of our students.

To end with a joke, John McClough, my friend and Head of Department at the Machakos Girls School, back in the late 1970s, once told me of a British military officer who left him thoroughly confused with talk of combatant and non-combatant units in the British army.

John was a typical Irish country lad and to his rustic ears, “combatant” and “non-combatant” in the British officer’s clipped accents sounded like “competent” and “non-competent”.

John kept wondering if there were competent and non-competent units within the British army. In my orature theory, I call such mishaps cases of “hearing and mishearing”, comparable to reading and misreading.