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My College Days in London and Teaching at the Kenya Polytechnic thereafter.

By Mahadev Desai

This is a sequel to my earlier report ‘College Days in Bombay’, so I would like to advise the readers to read that report first   before reading this report. Names have been changed to protect privacy.
After earning my from Bombay, I returned to Nairobi. I did short stints in accounting, advertising, and at the Income Tax office (run mostly by expatriate whites). I also got married. My only daughter Sandhya was born. I did not relish table- work jobs.

I wanted to be a teacher and learn more as well as share what I knew with young minds. It was an opportune moment for me. Kenya had become independent and education was one of the country’s top priorities. More teachers were needed. I decided to take up teaching. I was fortunate because the Ministry of Education helped me pay my tuition and dorm fees for a one year post-graduate course in teaching commercial subjects at Garnett College, a constituent College of the Univ. of London Institute of Education. My younger brother who was working with Kenya Airlines helped me get a Nairobi to London rebate ticket. It was heart wrenching to leave my family behind. Instead of travelling by steamer, this time I flew comfortably on a plane!

One of my Nairobi friends Rajiv came to receive me at the Heathrow airport. I experienced my first ride on a London underground train (commonly called the tube) Rajiv was studying and living as a paying guest with an English family in Essex. During the few days before commencing studies, he accompanied me on a quick sightseeing in London.

When the time came, I moved into the Garnett College dorm, called Mount Clare. I had my own room, on the first floor. Compared to the accommodation in Bombay hostel, here the room had more space, better furnished and was more comfortable. The food in the dining hall had few options but was nutritious and wholesome. I did miss home-cooking and Indian food though! The College was within walking distance. The students were adult post-graduate students including teachers from Commonwealth countries. I made a few new friends from India. I also had two Nigerian and an English friend. For a few weeks I was very homesick. The typical English foggy, rainy, snowy weather intensified my homesickness. I eagerly awaited letters from home! To keep fit I went jogging in nearby Richmond Park with my English friend Andy.

I attended classes taught by English professors, studied in the library, and watched movies shown by the College. During the course of studies, we were sent to different colleges and Polytechnics on teaching assignments. I was sent to Kingston Polytechnic. I was nervous of facing a class of adolescent white boys and girls as I was self-conscious about my English accent and fluency. But my College instructors and Polytechnic’s lecturers guided and encouraged me and I slowly gained confidence. The students were told that I was a visiting lecturer, so they were sympathetic and understanding. After a few weeks I began to enjoy teaching. I devised many teaching aids and notes for my lectures. In spare moments, I told the students about Kenya and even taught them a few Swahili words like jambo (hello), kwaheri (good bye) etc.!

The year was over and I was happy to learn that I had successfully completed my teacher training. After examination, we all had to leave the dorm. I waited for my rebate ticket from home. As luck would have it, there was a prolonged postal strike, which delayed its arrival. I could not go back to the dorm and I could not afford to rent expensive accommodation. Luckily, my three friends from Nairobi, Raj, Vinay and Vicky came to my rescue and let me stay for a few days in their rented apartment during the strike. I was at a loose end during this spell which I utilized soaking in a bit of British history and culture. I visited Hyde Park, Oxford Street, Trafalgar Square, renowned five-storey Foyle’s book store(Charing Cross), famous art galleries and museums. Little did I know then that one day I would return to live in London and re-visit these very places. The strike continued. My worries were short lived as this time the India Hostel for Overseas students kindly offered me temporary accommodation. Thankfully the strike ended soon thereafter. My got my ticket. As I headed home, my spirits soared higher than the plane I was flying in!

The Kenya Polytechnic: It was time to put my teacher training into practice. I began teaching in the Kenya Polytechnic’s Dept.of Business Studies. I taught Accounts, Secretarial Duties, Commerce and Economics to adolescent African and Indian students. The Business Studies Dept. had English expatriate teachers, and Indian and African teachers. I settled down quickly as the students were well disciplined and keen to study. The classes were small with about 20 students. Unlike today, the classrooms used no technology. It was just ‘chalk and talk’, supplemented with a few teaching aids. I initiated a few more extra-curricular activities like visits to Bata Shoes factory, a candy-making factory, banks, corporate offices, etc. The Polytechnic did not have a sports ground. Still, I formed Polytechnic Cricket Team. We practiced on different cricket fields. To everyone’s surprise, my team won both Knockout and League Competitions in 1973. I was also a Course Tutor for the ‘Chartered Institute of Secretaries’ examinations. In the evenings I taught Accounts to adult students studying for professional examinations. I also travelled to Kampala, Uganda, to mark ‘Overseas examination’ papers. I co-authored a book called ‘Elementary Book-Keeping’ which is being used as a textbook in many East African schools and Polytechnics.

I was sad to leave the Kenya Polytechnic after ten years.
I consider the ten years of teaching as the most enjoyable, fulfilling and rewarding years in my life. I hope I made some difference to some students. I will always remain eternally grateful to all who have helped me realize my dream of becoming a teacher!