Sunday, September 19, 2010
School books, finger scans, and privilege
I started writing this post September 9 and am hoping that on this, my third try, I will finally post something! Not having regular internet access is making the blogging a little tough. I planned on getting a mobile modem from a company called Orange but that is proving harder than anticipated. After visits to 3 stores across the city, not only have I been unable to locate a unit, but have also been informed it won’t work on my computer. Tomorrow I will give in and buy the more expensive, but working Zain version.
But enough complaining for now. I owe everyone an update post after my first two weeks of classes. I like to joke that USIU in some ways is a metaphor for Kenya- a thin veneer of shiny modern efficiency covering a whole mess of disorganization and non-sense. USIU scans my fingerprint every time I go to the library, but the library catalog system can only be accessed on (some) library computers. They make the effort to provide all course texts as books loaned for the semester, but they give you books your professor has not selected.
This brings me to an interesting non-academic learning moment. I firmly believe that education is the answer to development in the third world. In my first week I have come to appreciate just how difficult gaining that education is. Imagine you come from a working-class family outside of Nairobi. You work hard in school and work odd jobs to help support your family and pay your own school fees. You make it out of a less than stellar secondary school and work for a few more years, saving up money to apply to a University, likely in Nairobi. You get into school, pay the fees, and manage to move yourself to the city. Perhaps you live on campus or maybe you find a servant’s quarters that someone is renting out and you settle in for your studies.
You’ve worked hard and made it all the way to University (a feat in itself) and during your first class you are assigned weekly readings from books you can’t even locate to buy. You and your whole class rush to the library to look at the one copy at the University. After working out with your classmates who can have the book when, if you can afford it, you take the book to a copy shop and have them photocopy the whole thing. That’s just for one week. Now multiply that by many classes, many weeks, many years. You spend just as much time trying to access course texts as you do reading them. Mind you in the middle of this, you don’t have regular internet access to lazily surf the web for online resources or scanned articles.
Now compare that to the typical American college student, who at best, struggles to pay for their course books, and at worst never opens their brand new books, purchased at the school book store across the campus. Add in the 24 hr/day internet access and largely residential University set-ups and you’ve got quite a comparison.
Now some of my classmates experienced what I just described, and some of them went to schools abroad. But all of them are accustomed to strategic reading and book use in higher education. I, however, am not. I have spent the last two weeks with my friend in the library trying to locate the one copy of books to read, or books on the same topic as our reading. It’s frustrating. It’s inefficient. It does not serve my academic education. But it is exactly why I am here. Lesson number 1.
Class wise, it’s a little more straight lecture than I’d like in one class, and too basic in another, but bits of interesting information throughout. I am going to have to be highly self-motivated and a bit self-taught to get the most out of it. I am also going to have to learn not to shutter every time my country is mentioned unflattering or my leaders quoted inaccurately. Unlike my usual self, I’m sitting back and watching more, feeling less ownership over some of the conversations, but enjoying a different perspective and a class full of people intimately knowledgeable about South Sudan vs. North Sudan, the conflict between Somalia and Ethiopia, historical alliances between Tanzania and freedom movements, and Uganda’s backslide of democracy. East Africa nerd heaven.