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© Spring – Summer 2011

Lighting a fire

"Education is not the filling of a pail
but the lighting of a fire"

~ William Butler Yeats ~

When we were kids, we were taught how to start a fire without stealing the match box from Mama's kitchen. Every so often when we played house, we made it as real as we could, putting together a miniature three-stone fireplace, complete with little twigs for firewood. Then we'd snatch some greens from the kitchen, a tomato, an empty tin of kimbo for a pot, and a stick for a cooking spoon.

Somehow, the disappearance of the match box was the most noticeable of the stolen goods, leading to a search for the little brats and a premature end to fire-lighting and its related culinary activity, lest we set ourselves on fire. I don't know how we learnt it, but somehow it came to be known to us that we could take a little pointed stick and spin it against a log, making sure to place a piece of paper at the point of friction, and voila, a fire!
Lighting a fire

When the channels for learning remain rigid and uninspiring, the brain's potential for innovating and achieving the impossible is slowed down to mediocrity. Kenya's learning system still consists of teachers walking into a classroom, hour after hour, subject after subject, all year round, pouring blobs of knowledge into little heads stuffed with other more exciting concerns. Teachers resort to tedious tactics to ensure the blobs of knowledge are forced to stick to the students' gray matter, as much of it as possible.

Cramming is the most common of these tactics. Students cram to pass exams because that is all that matters. An education system based purely on standardized exams denies students opportunity to develop individual talent. Once in a while, an inspiring teacher in some far-flung school will find innovative ways of teaching and set her or his students on fire, allowing them to think critically, go beyond cramming the knowledge, and surprise the public by out-performing "top schools" students.
Climb The Tree

Pedagogy: The Art of Teaching

It is in finding innovative teaching methods that we help good teachers inspire their students. The brain is a natural sponge that soaks in knowledge and information. The formal education process only helps ignite the brain's capacity so it readily soaks in new knowledge and turns it into creative and innovative products.
Virtual Classroom View The teaching process must not assume that the skulls of students are empty debes awaiting filling up with book. These brains are three-stone fireplaces, already stacked up with firewood, just waiting to be ignited.
Teaching Tools

Pedagogy is the matchstick that sets the student's minds aflame. Teaching methods must not be information-soaked matchsticks, dull and ineffective. They should be exciting and versatile for the teacher, taking advantage of the strengths of the students and available information technology infrastructure; able to equip students to respond to the needs of their community.

It follows then that a generation is as inspired as the adults that impart knowledge; a country's innovation industry is as alive and effective as its school system. To change a teaching system so it becomes more effective is a task as daunting as replacing a regime.

Existing Teaching Methods SpotBeam's effort is not to replace the chalk and board, but to inject its innovative electronic forms and introduce complementary methods that would excite teachers and inspire students.

At the door of Opportunity

The team at SpotBeam has worked very hard to create one of the most exciting and innovative teaching tools: the SpotBeam E-learning Console (SEC), an internet-based tool that allows for real-time interactive teaching between teachers and students in different locations. A slide presentation of SpotBeam's vision and the SEC is available here.
Kenya E-Learning Console

The creative engineering part of it has been an ongoing building and testing phase, and eventually a presentation before a team from the Ministry of Education. SpotBeam made a presentation of the SEC to the Ambassador, H.E. Elkanah Odembo, who was impressed by the initiative and made it possible for the team to make the presentation before the Ministry of Education team at the Kenya Embassy in Washington, DC in March 2011. This team comprised of the Permanent Secretary, Professor James Ole Kiyiapi, Education secretary, Professor George Godia; Kenya Institute of Education Director, Ms. Lydia Nzomo, and senior officials from the Teachers Service Commission.
Meeting in DC Kenya Embassy

The Ministry of Education team,
SpotBeam administrative director and
Ambassador Elkanah Odembo
at the Kenya Embassy, following
the visual presentation.

It was with gratitude and a feeling of great accomplishment when this team of high-ranking officials gave the presentation great applause, followed by a discussion on how to incorporate it into the Ministry's school budget. SpotBeam was tasked with ensuring the proposal reached the Education Secretary's desk in time for the annual budgeting considerations. This was done promptly. After years of hard work, SpotBeam has arrived at the door of great opportunity where the possibility of making significant contribution to innovative learning in Kenya is only but a knock away.
Meeting in DC Kenya Embassy

SpotBeam Technical Director, Preston Hall,
presents the proposal to
Professor James Ole Kiyiapi,
Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Education,
at the Kenya Embassy, Washington, DC

This door of opportunity and wonderful possibilities for Kenya's students still needs persistent knocking on. We cannot do it alone. The project and dream must be embraced by the Ministry of Education so that it benefits the thousands of Kenya's youth in schools yearning for inspiration. It is our collective responsibility to invest in the brains of our youth, to equip this generation with tools for innovation, ignite curiosity and creativity, and spark the fire that will usher in the Kenya we envision in 2030 and beyond.
Innovative and Creative Youth

"It always seems impossible, until it's done"

~ Nelson Mandela ~

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