Education is the process of improving knowledge and developing skills. Education can be formal or informal. In the text, both formal and informal forms of education are evident.

First, informal education is prevalent among Africans before the coming of the white man. Young boys and girls are taught how to behave after initiation and marriage. Young people were taught about the history and culture of their community. For instance, during the journey to Kisuma, Akoko uses the opportunity to tell the young boys – Odongo and Opiyo – about the Ramogi and other heroes of the community.

After the coming of the white man, a new form of education emerges. This formal education involves reading and writing which is taught in missionary centres which later become schools. Nyabera and Akoko decide that Awiti and Owuor should join school, where they acquire reading skills and do simple arithmetic. Owuor leaves to join the seminary while Awiti is enrolled in a primary school where she learns other subjects like: English, Mathematics, Geography, Nature Study and History. She passes her exams and proceeds to a Teachers’ Training College to train as a teacher.

In the Sigu family, all children are enrolled in school and they do very well. After primary school, Vera, Tony and Aoro are admitted to National schools while Becky is invited to a district school. Vera forfeits her place in the national school to join Becky in her school. After ‘O’ Level, those who do well, join ‘A’ Level where they study sciences or Arts. Aoro and Vera choose the sciences, which they pass, while Becky goes for the arts and fails in the end. Vera and Aoro join university, where they pursue careers in electronic engineering and medicine respectively. Becky, on the other hand, leaves for Nairobi where she hopes to become an air hostess.

Education is, initially, a preserve of boys as seen in Awiti’s class, which has only two girls against thirty-two boys. At the end of the course, Awiti is the only girl in the class and she beats the other ten boys to emerge top of her class. As time goes by, girls start excelling in education and, in some cases, doing better than boys as seen with Wandia and Vera. Girls also start excelling in mathematics and science subjects that were previously dominated by boys.

Discussion points

  • Do all Mark’s children succeed in their education?
  • What role do Mark and Elizabeth play in ensuring that their children get educated?
  • How does education (or lack of) change the lives of the characters in the novel?
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