Out of Africa

Many long days have passed since my last blog post, but I have been busy on another continent. I have just returned from a week working out in Kenya, where I spoke at a conference and visited several primary and secondary schools. It was my first visit to Kenya, and most of my time was spent in the coastal town of Mombasa. I had fascinating conversations with many of those living in Mombasa, and spent time with some of the school children who were very proud to show us around their schools. Schools in Africa are quite different to those we are familiar with in Western and industrialised countries around the world. Many struggle to develop and use what little resources they have, but everywhere you go, you see pride in the school and enthusiasm for learning in equal measure. Besides meeting some wonderful people in and outside of the conference, I saw some excellent projects, two of which I would like to tell you about.

The first is a project from the Kenya Institute of Education called Elimika (Elimi means education) which seeks to develop and disseminate good digital content for learning. In the past year or so, KIE has developed digital content (text, video, audio and games) in 12 subjects including languages, humanities, mathematics, the sciences and technology. This is collated from the experience of many teachers across Kenya who are invited to come together for 'boot camps' where they develop and refine the content in small teams. It is then piloted among small groups of existing school children before being refined further, and then delivered in CD format to schools across Eastern Africa. This may sound a little backward to western minds, but for East Africa, this is quite an innovation, particularly for schools that may have only one or two computers, and without internet access.

The second project relates to food shortages in East Africa, a topic looming large in the minds of us all as we see the tragedy unfolding in Somalia, and the sad refugee situation in North East Kenya at present. The Makini School Project is based on Sack Gardening - also known as 'vertical farming', where sacks and other small containers are used for growing food crops when available space is limited. This is a very important technique in places where drought is prevalent. The initial research for the project was carried out in Nairobi's slum areas by local primary school children. They discovered that sack gardening not only preserves soil and prevents runoff, but that healthier crops can be grown through intercropping - a variety of different plants growing together that complement each other.

These and many other innovative projects give hope to the people of Kenya during difficult times. The enthusiasm and sheer joy of living I discovered among the children and the teachers in the schools of Mombasa are truly inspirational. Their community spirit, and their ethos that your worth is based not so much on what you possess, but on how much you can share with others (the Swahili word for sharing is Ubuntu), certainly sends a clear message to the youth of the better off societies in the world.

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Out of Africa by Steve Wheeler is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.


Felix said…
It's always an inspiration, seeing how students in societies with very little, for whom there are so very many other pressing things to be done, value both schools and education.

That so many here in the industrially developed world (and I include myself as a kid) don't value either in the same way tells me that we (generically: the system which provides these schools and education) have a lot to think about in terms of improving what we offer.
helenotway said…
Hi Steve,
This must have been such a rewarding experience for you. I am currently learning a lot about the African community. My new school, of which I am the principal, is predominantly made up of Somali children. I can only imagine what they have experienced as education in their life before arriving in Australia.
Fascinating trip into learning in other continent. Have these two projects the official support of the Ministry of Education?
Steve Wheeler said…
@Gabriela - as far as I am aware, yes, the projects have government support, although I'm not sure in what form. The projects were presented at the conference which was officially opened by the deputy minister of education for Kenya.
Steve Wheeler said…
@Felix @Helen - it was both rewarding and inspirational for me at many levels, and always is when I visit anywhere in Africa. Thanks for your comments.

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