Bored to Brilliance – Mentoring in Mananja Secondary School

|By Joleen Wangechi|

Walking into Mananja Secondary School for the first time, anxiety and adrenaline blended within me. I hadn’t prepared a speech or rehearsed insights. Instead, in those spontaneous moments, I sought genuine connections with the students. After brief introductions in the form three class, we got into an interactive session. We inquired about their thoughts on what could help them improve their performance in school. Their suggestions included: provision of revision papers, group discussions,  teacher consultations and even the creation of personal timetables. If these needs were so evident, the question arises: what is the problem? It’s not that they didn’t know what to do; the challenge lies in execution and following through.

I decided to share an unfiltered glimpse into my own life, hoping its rawness and relatability would resonate with the young minds. What followed was an exploration of the silent yet potent power of boredom, a force I had recently been grappling with and found both challenging and enlightening. I shared that I was struggling to do productive work because it was so boring; I wanted to gouge my eyes out. The students echoed this sentiment. Activities like Saturday entertainment, movie nights, and games days seemed more appealing to them than academic pursuits. Why? Boredom. The idea of opening a Chemistry revision book appeared dreary. Thus, I posed a challenge to them: embrace boredom, do nothing.

It sounds simple, doesn’t it? Programming your mind to do nothing. The truth is that it’s not easy to do nothing. Studies show that the brain revolts against boredom. That’s why solitary confinement is considered one of the least human forms of torture imaginable. When all distractions are sidelined, leaving only the dull task, your brain seeks interest in it out of sheer disdain for idleness.

As I later learnt, night prep in Mananja is 2 hours and 45 mins. I identified the class’s main noisemaker: We’ll call him Jack. He admitted to wasting an hour on chatty distractions. Instead of urging him to be more diligent, I set a challenge: to place a book on his table and resist his chatty instincts. Whenever tempted to talk, he was to focus on the wall, pushing himself into the realms of boredom, thereby eliminating his primary distraction. His brain would then move to the next best thing. The book on the table. Naturally.

I don’t envision Jack staring at that wall for a straight hour, nor engrossing himself in the book all night. The aim was for him to push himself into the hierarchy of improvement. As humans, we are insufficient. We’re imperfect and flawed, yet that’s beside the point. What truly matters is that we often achieve about 70% of our goals, which is infinitely better than achieving nothing at all. Everything is within grasp if you have enough humility to aim low enough. Success lies in modest aspirations. Over time, these small victories compound, leading to monumental progress.