There is value in going back to basics

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A few years ago, an individual stated in one of the WhatsApp forums to which I was affiliated that it was retrogressive for the Road Traffic Directorate to require trainee drivers to get tested in manual transmission vehicles. His contention rested upon the premise that assessing individuals with manual vehicles proved futile for those destined to navigate automatic transmission in their forthcoming driving endeavours. Such people comprised the vast majority of the driving license seekers.

This perspective is simplistic, as the reality is that the Directorate cannot foresee the types of vehicles individuals will operate in the future. One might own an automatic vehicle today, but the type of vehicle one might subsequently possess or be required to drive, even temporarily, remains uncertain. Even a firm resolve to purchase solely automatic vehicles does not ensure that one will never encounter a manual transmission one. For instance, one might be requested by a colleague to drive their manual car on an errand.

It is not inconceivable that a working individual accustomed to driving an automatic company car might find it unavailable at times – perhaps due to repairs, servicing, or its requisition by a higher ranking officer. In such instances, the organisation may provide a relief vehicle, which could very well be a manual one. These eventualities elude precise prediction. Thus it is prudent and justified for the Road Traffic Directorate to test drivers using manual transmission vehicles. It is preferable to undergo more rigorous training and subsequently experience an easier driving situation, rather than the reverse.

Using manual systems for training holds significant value as it ensures trainees grasp the fundamentals of their chosen activities. As I type this article, I do so without looking at the keys, thanks to my touch typing skills. Conversely, I have observed some individuals typing with their index fingers, resembling a chicken pecking at maize seeds. I acquired touch typing proficiency on a manual typewriter years ago. While manual typewriters are now scarce, I deeply appreciate the foundational skills I gained from them. Consequently, I am confident that this article will be free of typing errors upon submission.

When scientists embarked on space missions, they recruited people who had been pilots to become astronauts. The spacecraft these astronauts would operate was much more automated than the planes they had gained their experience on but the space mission administrators knew that there would likely be situations the astronaut’s flying experience would have to be resorted to.

And they (the administrators) were right.  The Apollo 11 crew were the first to land on the Moon in 1969. Neil Armstrong was the commander of the lunar lander, the craft that separated from the main module (left in orbit around the Moon), which descended onto and landed on the surface of the Moon. I have stated several times before that a model of the lunar lander has been stationed in the main building of the formerly Malawi Polytechnic (now MUBAS), near the Porter’s Lodge, but every day people walk past it without realising what it is.

As they were about to land, Neil Armstrong realised that they were headed for a lunar boulder (huge rock) and would almost certainly crash land. He quickly took over the flight control to manually divert the craft from the boulder and make it land on a smoother surface. His long flight hours back on Earth stood him in good stead in this manoeuvre. What would have been an accident in the splendidly isolated lunar environs was skillfully averted. Neil was able to plant his feet, the first human feet so to do, on the surface of the Moon and to subsequently utter the now famous words, “A small step for a man; but a giant leap for mankind”.

You can never go wrong by dedicating time to learning the basics of any endeavor, whether in the arts or sciences, culture or religion. Language, for example, has its own fundamentals, embodied in grammar. Mastery of grammar provides the foundation for clear and effective communication.

Unfortunately, our younger generation appears indifferent to grammar, a stark contrast to the emphasis we placed on it during our schooling. This neglect has serious repercussions. Only a handful among them can articulate their thoughts clearly in English or any other language of their choice, leading to frequent misunderstandings. Their speech and writing often lack coherence, making it hard to discern their intended message.

In essence, the basics serve as the building blocks for proficiency and success in any field. Whether it is the technical skills acquired through manual training o the grammatical rules that govern language, understanding these fundamentals is crucial.

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