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Nze Nsubuga reawakens 5.30am

As schools prepare to open, Nze Nsubuga has resurrected his aptly titled poem, 5.30am, a Luganda poem in which he addresses the issue of kids waking up at 5.30am to prepare for school.

Nze Nsubuga during one of the poetry recitals at the National Theatre last year. Right is the poet. PHOTO/courtesy

A poem titled 5:30am calls for a reflection on the affairs of the prevailing local education system. Written and performed by Nze Nsubuga, real name Mohammad Nsubuga, the Luganda poem poses unassuming but critical questions to parents, teachers and proponents of the system.

Since the country was hit by the global pandemic, Covid-19, which led to a lockdown in various sectors, Education has been one of the major concerns on the part of both the public and the authorities. As the sector slowly opens, following a presidential directive, the aptly titled poem paints some of the crucial moments that define most of the schooling days.

The poet, who performs with Kitara Nation, a Kampala-based poetry assemble, uses the events that characterise a typical week-day morning as children prepare for school, to call on the stakeholders to reflect on the largely ignored issues in early-childhood education.

“At 5:30am, the cock is yet to crow, but the young ones are awake,” he opens the poem. In performance, he punctuates the punchline with a lull, letting the statement sink in the heads of his listeners, before he continues, “5:30am, the dawn is yet to fall but school vans are making the rounds.”

The 23-year old performed the poem at African Writers Trust (AWT) Poetry Training workshop last year. A video of the performance was posted on YouTube by AWT on April 10, 2020. With the Channel’s 36 subscribers, the video has garnered a paltry 70 views, with no comment.

His concerns, however, are not alien. In 2018, following media reports that parents were sending their children to school as early as 5am, the Minister of Education, Janet Museveni, said this puts the children’s lives in jeopardy.

“There is no reason for children to be at school at that time–It is wrong,” the First Lady’s tweet read in part.

The poem, 5:30am (or Kkumi n’emu n’ekitundu, he says it in Luganda) is centered on the action that takes place at 5:30am in most Ugandan homesteads.

As the poem progresses, his vocal tone rises, as he calls out his listener to imagine that, at “5:30am, the birds are yet to wake, but the P.1 kid is awake.”

In the hit of the moment, he describes, the parent and the child, like wrestlers, pass each other. “It is a rush hour.”

“The uniform didn’t dry well, but it is ironed. Like it or not, you will wear it,” he figuratively avows, attracting chuckles from his audience.

As the parent and their little child bustle in the panic mode, the school van leaves them. A boda boda is the next viable option to hastily drop the two at school. The motorist, on the parent’s demand, ought to ride fast lest the child misses the test which they usually do on Monday.

Once at school, “there are only 13 pupils in the classroom, the rest have not yet arrived, but the exam began 30 minutes earlier.”

“This is the current education system,” Nsubuga states. “The parent and the student, there is no difference anymore. Be it nursery or primary, Day or Boarding, there is no difference anymore.”

The poet decries pumping children with schoolwork that he says leaves them with little time to share a moment with fellow children. “Things are individualistic,” he opines, “and there is no more teamwork, children study too much.’

He is of the view that resting is as good as the education the children receive, hence querying, “Why should a nursery kid wake up at 5:30am?”

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