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© Spring – Summer 2011

Education and Peace

"Establishing lasting peace
is the work of education;
all politics can do is keep us out of war"

~ Maria Montessori ~

When it comes to disparity in academic performance, we're in a bit of trouble. Peace is threatened. Consider this: out of a total of 357,488 KCSE (Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education) 2010 candidates, only 27% attained a C and above, the minimum grade for college entry.

  Kabarak High School celebrates top
  KCSE 2010 student, Albert Wandui,
  Principal David Kariuki and his boys,
  Alliance High School, celebrate
  KCSE 2010 good returns

The rest go tumbling down the shoot to failure alley. There, you will find exceedingly few angels to pick them up. A negligible few will find their way out of the country, courtesy of relatives living abroad, some will be absorbed into tertiary education other than universities.

The majority will start the long road to unknown destinies, scrounging for odd jobs in the cities and townships, widening the proletariat bottom of the economic pyramid, already chock-a-block with the previous years' unemployed. Kenya is facing a war against drugs, most of which end up in the hands of idle, uninspired youth.

Here's some hope: "Candidates who obtained grade D and above and are considered eligible for further training account for 87% compared to 85% in 2009," Sam Ongeri, Minister for Education. Meaning that somehow, the majority of academic "failures" will be eligible for some form of training.

It all comes down to how many of the 87% can afford that alternative post-secondary training, most of them having come from poor families, and after that, how many can find jobs or create their own employment. Travelling to rural coast in 2010, it did not take me long to hear who's kid is on drugs, their young brains compromised and at war with the world, the drug lords going about business as usual.

Kenya's IQ

If the story doesn't come with any sense of hope, there's no need to tell it. Actually, Kenya's education story does oftentimes shine so bright that when told, it shocks those who still think Africa is a little village of struggling persons pitifully reaching out for the light. I have been asked so many times, "how long did it take you to learn English, where were you educated, are there real universities in your country?"

These questions that doubt the presence of any form of intelligence in anyone calling themselves an African, are asked with the purest and daintiest shade of innocence and awe. Oh, to think an African could grasp Shakespeare. Well, Shakespeares's got nothing on Soyinka, I tell them. It's unfortunate that the intelligence of Mandela, Wangari Maathai, Desmond Tutu, Wole Soyinka, all these our own nobel laureates, is not the yardstick chosen by the world out there to define Africa.
Evans Wadongo

  CNN 2010 Heroes. Evans Wadongo:
  "I'm lighting up rural communities and
  lifting people out of poverty"

When you tell the doubters of your intelligence that you received all your education, primary through university, in Kenya, they get absolutely fascinated, as if you were an oddity. Tell them then, that Kenya, the size of Texas, has 54 colleges and campuses, and more than 6000 high schools.

Tell them that Kenya's youth are now beginning to receive international recognition for their genius and innovations in technology, Nairobi's own growing silicon valley, Evans Wadongo and his solar lantern. Tell them that the majority of top academic students from Kenya end up at MIT or Havard. See here. True story of a Kenya with incredible brainpower. It defines us, and we must make it so that we no longer generate a "failure" generation year after year.

  A kiosk in rural Kenya selling cellphones.
 Young programmers cater to the 10 million
  cellphones with cutting-edge technology,
 eg, money transfer software. New York Times

What's the White House
got to do with it?

It is the recognition of this young generation by the White House that led to the White House Summit on African Youth. We should be seeing the tail-end of the age of Aid to Africa, and ushering in a new age of African innovation, entrepreneurship and partnerships with the west.

All this hope is shouldered by 89% of the world's youth who live in Africa.

Kenya's 15-35 comprise 75% of the country's population. No policy should ever be made without this population in mind, and any budget cuts to youth programs is unequivocally ill-advised. Karimi Kinoti

Karimi Kinoti of Nairobi Peace Initiatives
spoke at the White House Youth Summit

SpotBeam was invited to attend the White House Summit on African Youth in the summer of 2010. Our technical director met and spoke with representatives working on business ventures and peace initiatives. Of note was a speaker, Karimi Kinoti of Nairobi Peace Initiative whom we challenged to partner with SpotBeam, education being a cause directly linked with the attainment of peace. White House Flyer White House

SpotBeam continues a relentless pitching for partnerships and support wherever we're invited. Only through taking initiative to promote one's cause can one experience that magical "being at the right place at the right time" moment. When SpotBeam eventually gets implemented in schools, we'll know it's not luck but hard work.

The risk of
empowering the youth

"Youth innovation requires us as employers,
educators, and mentors to reward
risk-taking by not punishing
individuals for failures.

~ Sam Hamdan ~

In the fall of 2010, the International Young Leaders Summit, an initiative of the Global Peace Foundation, was held in Nairobi with the purpose of empowering young leaders. It drew about 600 "peace-minded" youth from across the globe. SpotBeam's director attended the afternoon session in which Kenya's youth decried the lack of faith investors and bankers had in them. Representatives from the banking sector and philanthropists responded by saying banks do not lend money to persons without collateral, and that the youth need to learn to take initiative in small ways in order to build capital.
Young Leaders Summit

A cross section of youth attending the
International Young Leaders Summit at the
Kenya International Conference Center, Nairobi

While this is true, it reflects the hopeless vortex that creative and innovative youth are caught up in, having no bank accounts, no rich relatives, and no opportunities to build capital. SpotBeam's Mkawasi Mcharo Hall addressed the audience on this issue, challenging the bankers, investors and philanthropists to borrow a leaf from Mohammad Yunus, the 2006 nobel laureate who took the ultimate risk and invested in the poorest villagers whose only collateral was intangible capital - their sense of interdependence and trust. With this, he created the Grameen Bank that empowered hundreds of Bangladesh women clients and their families. Mkawasi also presented the SpotBeam project and vision to an international audience with dignitaries from Asia, US, and Kenya.
Pitching SpotBeam

Pitching SpotBeam to anyone who would listen.
Mkawasi with Kenya's Chief Secretary,
Nuclear Electricity Project, David Otwoma
Nairobi Nov. 2010

It is time those at the apex of the economic pyramid in Kenya took some major risks and invested in the youth. They are crying for someone to believe in their dreams and invest in their potential. You are the angels they wait for.

"We [Somalis] have a proud culture that
holds individual achievement in high regard.
Social justice was an article of faith.
We need to go back to those roots.
If there is anyone capable of achieving
that fete, its us; the youngsters, the new
generation of leaders."

~ The Kenyan Somali Renaissance ~

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