Hello Country Lead, how is your day as an education changemaker in Kenya going?
I’m enjoying the warm weather in Kajiado, a small town 1.5-hour drive south of Nairobi, the capital city of Kenya, where I live with my wife Prudence and my three kids: Benter (9), Nicholas (5), and Hope (1.5). My mother also lives nearby, which is a real blessing.
I work for BEADS for Education, an organization that improves the quality of education for women and girls. I teach Biology and Mathematics in a BEADS-founded high school, Tembea Academy, and my work focuses on researching and creating an all-inclusive interactive learning environment for girls from the vulnerable Maasai communities. I also serve as a Communication and Outreach Coordinator for BEADS.
I believe in an education system that does not rob learners of their curiosity, creativity and imaginations and above all, one that serves to create a balance in the lives of all learners. At BEADS I lead a virtual mentorship program for girls from role models around the world including the US Army Corps of Engineers, Curious Cardinals, National Science Foundation and local mentors from the Society of Women Engineers in Nairobi among others.
In addition to being a high school teacher, I spend six hours a week with elementary school kids inspiring them to love science through the Full STEAM Forward program, where learners from Kenya participate in joint educational projects with those from other countries like the USA, Brazil and Spain. I’ve also started an advocacy program that champions arts integration in teaching. Through this program, I visit neighbouring primary schools and have discussions with educators and students on the topic of arts integration and its role in heightening creative thinking among learners. And I need to point out that most of the collaborative work that I am currently doing is from the connections I made in the HundrED community.
What was the moment, realization or a person that made you excited about education in the first place?
“Life could have been better if I continued with my education.”
These words are from my strong and loving mother, Benter, and they have played a significant role in shaping my thinking and beliefs in equal access to quality education.
My mother lived her life, always trying to fit in a society that was, apparently, repulsive. She had limited choices to start with and had to slowly watch darkness creeping in the few bright opportunities. She suffered major health setbacks that included losing her ability to ever have another child besides me. She believed her life could have been much better had she gone to school.
My mother started school but due to the limited resources, coupled with unfair cultural practices and beliefs, her parents could not keep her there. The furthest she went in her education journey was in grade seven. It is from our frequent conversations with her that this passion in me first found its roots. The fire kept burning and to date, it grows bigger with each sunrise.
I enjoy participating in activities that contribute to building communities that empower girls and women, especially from vulnerable communities. In my job as a high school teacher in Mathematics, Science and Biology I take special interest in dispelling the myth that Science and Mathematics subjects are only suited for male students.
I strongly believe that an educated woman will most certainly make education a priority for her children - both boys and girls. It is common knowledge that there is an underrepresentation of women in STEM in Sub Saharan Africa. The question is what can we do about it? This is not a question to be answered exclusively by women. No! It beckons for the attention of all of us - you and me regardless of our gender. We all have a role to play and I am set to see mine through.
Where do you see the biggest opportunities for innovators in your region?
Kenya is making efforts toward achieving its 2030 vision of becoming a newly industrializing, middle-income country that provides a high-quality life for its citizens. In the African context, I am encouraged by the words of the visionary Ghananian educator Jamess Emman when he says: “The surest way to keep a people down is to educate men and neglect the women. If you educate a man you simply educate an individual, but if you educate a woman, you educate a family’’.
I believe the biggest and most impactful innovations in Kenya are those that bridge the gender gap of access to quality education.
My work is primarily based in the vulnerable Maasai communities in Kenya where poverty, early marriages and poor cultural practices such as female genital mutilation are some of the key factors affecting access to quality education for girls and women. Most of the women and girls in these communities are barely surviving. When all you care about is how to survive, you cannot dream. Some of the innovations that I believe to be tackling the problem head-on are Akili Dada, and of course my home organization BEADS for Education. I think it is great having innovations that continue to increase women's and girls’ access to quality education, as education has always proved to be a key tool for national development. Besides, no nation would want to ignore the skills and contributions of half of its population.
However, increasing access to education alone is great, but not enough. We need innovations that guarantee education quality. We need innovations that bridge ‘knowing’ with ‘creating and doing'. Those that instil confidence among the learners - both girls and boys in the same measure. Innovations that empower learners to acquire critical thinking and leadership skills are great. But I think we should not only focus on ‘learner acquisition of skills’ but also ‘learner-practice of the acquired skills. It is time we change our usual phrases like young people are leaders of tomorrow, why not today? I am inspired by young activists and changemakers like Greta Thunberg. My heart desires innovations that give learners a platform to practice the skills that they acquire in school. We need more innovations such as the Dignitas Project, and People's Action for Learning (PAL) among others.
What are the challenges that slow down innovation in your context?
George Couros says in his book ‘The Innovator’s Mindset’ that change is scary, and it can seem easier to stay with a ‘known bad’ than take the chance on the possibility of a ‘great’ new opportunity. We have a curriculum that is way too static for a world that is constantly changing. In so many ways, these remarks describe what is happening around me.
There is too much laxity in embracing new opportunities. When I first joined BEADS for Education, I was prepared to teach using the same teaching pedagogies I observed my teachers use - the way I was taught. I think over-reliance on teaching the curriculum over the actual learning experience of the child hinders innovation. A rigid curriculum is stagnant and so are ways of teaching it. But, when we focus on teaching children, we will rise to their uniqueness and realize that they cannot all consume the same material in the same way. We are also likely to develop empathy for them and create an enabling environment for doing and creating using the knowledge gathered.
In most schools, the way teaching and learning occurs neither reflects nor capitalizes on the technology, information and people we have access to today. School policies and budgets should give room for a significant degree of meaningful flexibility. Another barrier to innovation is an overloaded curriculum. An innovator needs time to think outside the box and it can be hard when all your time is taken by teaching a rigid and bulky curriculum.
What little or big part do you want to play in improving education?
I would like to keep showing up and inspire as many people as possible to also gather the courage to show up. It is my goal to lead and create the change I hope to see in our education system. George Couros says, ‘success for our learners- and for ourselves as educators are not about how much we know, how efficient our systems are or even the scores of our learners. It is about what our learners- and ourselves can do with what we know.
I know that :
No nation will want to ignore the skills and contributions of half its population.
Quality education is not only about acquisition of knowledge and skills but also application of the same. There is an eminent need for teaching creative thinking as it is the skill for the 21st century.
Charity begins at home, for me, it starts by giving my daughter the same attention and resources as my son. Taking all my children seriously. Empowering my partner, treating her with dignity knowing that she can do much more than house chores and looking after our children. As an educator, by reminding girls that they have the same education chances as their male counterparts.
I would like to capitalize on this prestigious HundrED Country Lead role to amplify my voice and the voice of those around me in creating more space for the equally significant members of our population- women and girls.
How can we make education more lucrative for women and girls? A good friend once told me, it is by making it relevant to them. I agree, and that is why as a Country Lead, over and above supporting the education of girls, I am committed to continuously exploring ways of making education relevant to its consumers. As part of the big puzzle, I would like for basic needs to be also considered educational needs. Many learners, especially from vulnerable communities are flooded with socio-economic challenges. Poverty has a sharp edge that is increasingly deflating the education balloon. Once learners cannot access basic needs, how then can they fully access quality education?
Who would you like to see joining the HundrED community to accelerate the pace of change?
HundrED has a unique way of bringing together people with a common goal, to improve the quality of education. It is a harbour of quality discussions that drive the change we all need. Education is a tool for change for all and especially the young people. During my days in university, while studying for a bachelor's degree in special needs education, there was this famous slogan ‘nothing about us without us’. I would like to see more young people joining and participating in thought-provoking discussions that eventually add to the quality of education.
Joining HundrED has helped me develop empathy for different cultures, challenged my thinking and beliefs, and led me to embrace the knowledge of different realities. These three merits can really go a long way into leading a young person to his or her dreams. Moreover, I believe there is a sea of talent, skill and innovation among the young people, all that is lacking is a platform to amplify them and share them with the world. I think HundrED can provide that.
What does a future worth aspiring look to you?
I envision an education system with production companies embedded in it. That system provides an immediate platform for students to use the knowledge they have to ‘create and do’ as they continue to learn.
An education system where student leaders get the chance to practice leadership instead of keeping so much leadership knowledge in their brains for ‘future use’. I look forward to an education where ‘skill and knowledge acquisition’ goes hand in hand with ‘skill and knowledge practice’. I am imagining a shift from pure theoretical and passive knowledge transfer to a blended practical and active learning. Over and above these, it is my dream to have a system that believes in equal access of opportunities and learning resources to both boys and girls.