The first thing I learnt when I went to kindergarten/nursery school is that, A is for Apple. This is the first introduction to learning the alphabet.
So, I grew up wondering what an apple tasted like. It almost became a magical fruit to me. Apples are not a common fruit in Kenya. I only got to see and taste an apple, for the first time, 13 years later after I went to high school. I went to one of the national schools that bring together students from all over the country and from all economic cadres. I ended up sharing a cubicle (shared by 4 occupants) with a girl from a very wealthy family. The school allowed students to be visited by their parents any Saturday or Sunday and this particular girl got visited – A LOT. Her family brought so much food almost every Saturday (bag fulls of those bale like Uchumi paper bags (then) for those who know them). This girl was very generous. She shared all the stuff she was brought and one day she gave me an apple. I was excited!
Finally, I get to hold the magical fruit in my hand. Waoh! I looked at it, studied it, I could not decide how to start to eat it. Heck, I did not even know how to eat it(I mean, do you peel it, do you cut it up, do you..? do you..?), so I observed her. And I gave it my first bite. Mmmmmhhh….second bite…well, this does not taste that exciting to me, I think to myself. I keep biting (an observing the eating method) and I finish the whole thing more out of politeness or hunger or both. I did not find the apple very tasty. You see, one of the benefits of living in a tropical region is that the fruit tastes incredible – its like a feast in your mouth! Having already had eaten Mangoes, pineapples, guavas, bananas, berries etc, the apple did not even come close taste wise.
How many children have tasted an apple in Kenya? Why do we still teach them to say A for Apple? Even in places like Nairobi(Kenya’s capital) where apples are available they are very expensive and out of reach for many. Why should anyone buy an apple for 25 shillings when they can get 5 bananas with the same amount of money? Yet, we continue to insist that A is for Apple. Does this not prevent children from connecting or linking what they learn to their environmental surroundings? On a light note, I once saw one of those alphabet posters which proclaimed that G is for Jesus! Gesus! Back, to A. Why can it not be A for Antelope, for example? Or A for Ant? Something that children can relate to and they have seen?
A for Apple only makes sense for the wealthy and we have established that those are not the majority. A for Apple is an internalization of colonial education discourses. For those who may want to argue that the aspiration should be for everyone to get to eat an apple then we must ask where is it that the apples come from? Do we grow them? A for Apple is a representation of all that needs to be changed in the education system – there is much more. As Mwalimu Julius Nyerere says in discussing issues around the perpetuation of the the colonial curriculum “you will teach to produce clerks as the colonialists did, you will not be teaching fighters but a bunch of slaves and semi-slaves. Get your pupils out of the colonial mentality. You have to produce tough people; stubborn youths- who can do something – not hopeless youths.” You cannot do this if we keep teaching them that A is for Apple.
Mwalimu Julius Nyerere, first president of the Republic of Tanzania
I am happy to see some other Kenyan’s are way ahead in their thinking by calling for a de-latinisation of African scripts.