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Is There Hope Beyond The Classroom?

importance_of_education_1My reflection this February 2014 is anchored on the just released KCSE results for the 2013 candidates.  I cannot help but notice the ongoing celebrations and media coverage of those who have performed well. Schools have been ranked from the first to the bottom in terms of performance and gazetted for that matter. Parents are also reading the newspapers with new strategies to transfer their children to the best performing schools, just so they can not only perform well, but also get the social recognition and status that come by being associated with the top performing schools. Others who have failed will be forced to repeat classes so as to get higher grades, while those who have excelled will be forced to live their parents’ dream jobs by becoming lawyers, engineers, doctors regardless of their individual passions and talents. As we argue on which schools were ranked highest/last this week, My concern is on the other group of students’ whom nobody is talking about, and are feeling stigmatized for having ‘failed’. Yes. That is what our education system is teaching us-that the definition of success and development is outdoing each other by all means necessary. That unless you give back to the teacher the exact answers that he deposited in your notebook (Not Head) then you are wrong. So no room to think outside the box, no room for innovations, in the exam room (genius not allowed) and no room to be yourself for you must think like everybody else!

The reality is that even as we celebrate the winners, let us bear in mind that if EVERYONE is not going, nobody is going, from a development perspective! This is because if only half of the 446,000 candidates who sat their KCSE in 2013 will get college and university placements, then we should pose the celebrations for a moment and ask what will happen to the other half of the group because they are not blank slates! Their contribution is equally necessary in development.  This is why Africa has few innovations for we have been trained to give back answers as they were dictated in our notebooks and not to dare think differently or think of new models. So we have become redundant in our mindsets! I conquer with Nyamjoh (2012), who in a critical reflection on the resilience of colonial education in Africa, argues that education is the set of values used in turn to appraise the knowledge in question. When the values are not appropriate or broadly shared, the knowledge acquired is rendered irrelevant and becomes merely cosmetic.

What this does then is to make people become robots who thrive in a routine culture of doing things, answering questions and fear being judged (marked) as wrong. To make an additional point that Nyamjoh (2012) brings out is that educating our children in this Century without any efforts to show dignity, creativity and humanity of Africans is to perpetuate the theory of Africa being the heart of darkness. At this point, I am tempted to think about what types of environment promote innovations to thrive?

This then gets me thinking, what is the way forward for an individual, a youth for that matter, and living in today’s society that defines who they are by the measure of the grade. For the society, you are as good as your grade. This can only mean that individuals should be so rooted in Christ, who is the author of our destinies to get our identity in Him to be able to stand the pressures of being defined by society. Our destiny comes in two parts-what we have been called to do and what we have been called to be. God dwells on what you have been called to be, and not even the grade can change His good plans for our lives.

Worth thinking about: Anything God calls you to do that does not involve people maybe a fantasy! In most cases, God gives you an assignment to serve people and be a blessing. Serving people is the shortest way to discover your calling, get your blessing and connect with your destiny. Don’t get so messed up because you are not in the best position. Get in your place, allow the influence that God is pulling through you to change the course of the world.


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The Power of One Person to Effect Change: A Majority of One?

wordle change transformation 2My reflection today is based on an experience in a bus I boarded. Having boarded as the last passenger, I headed to the last seat which was strategic, and I could have a view of everyone.  The tout went by collecting his dues from every passenger, an activity that everyone adhered to peacefully without any complains. Nonetheless, a middle aged man was just about to disrupt the routine collection of bus fare. When it was his turn, he courageously asked the tout why they were charging seventy shillings on an average distance that should only be fifty Kenyan shillings.  He pointed at the Bus Company’s fare chart fixed on the windows, indicating that the actual fare during off-peak hours was a maximum of fifty shillings. The tout raised his voice arguing that everyone else from the front seat had made payments without complaining and so the middle-aged man should also emulate and do the same. The man was relentless in his quest. He also argued that he was not everyone else and would pay what has been stipulated on the fare chart and not what the receipts indicated. A heated argument ensued.

Then the man got off his mobile and dialed the contact details of the bus head office as had been provided beneath the fare chart details. He demanded to speak to the manager of the company, a privilege that he was granted, all this while with his phone on the loud speaker. By that time, the bus had been pulled off the road, with the driver and the tout demanding that the man should alight as he was a nuisance to the rest of the passengers. The bus was half divided. One half believed that he should actually get off as he was wasting other people’s time for only and extra coin of twenty shillings while another half believed that the man had a point. From his appearance, he was well to do and so twenty shillings was not a problem. I guessed at that point the man was out on a mission to pass across an important point.

The manager on the other end of the phone was very categorical that the off-peak bus fare was fifty shillings and so no one was to be charged an extra coin. He demanded to speak to the tout and ordered him to refund every passenger on that bus the extra twenty shilling that had been charged. At this point, the entire bus was quiet, every one taken by surprise on the twist of events as the middle aged man stay put in his seat. Then, as typical as I have observed of Kenyans, it was at that point that everyone, including those who were shouting against him joined his side. From different corners, I could hear comments such as, ″Yeah, refund us our money, you touts are actually thieves!  I wanted to inquire on the same when I saw the fare chart but I just decided to keep quiet’, retorted another. “Give me back my money! ″ Shouted a lady from the first raw. At this time, the wrath of the people was on the tout who was busy refunding everyone their twenty shillings as he proceeded towards the back seats to collect our pending fares.

I was intrigued by the power of one person to bring about change in the setting. At first, no one questioned the fare charges. Everyone was comfortable paying what they had been told and went on with their businesses as usual, except the middle aged man who took interest on what was written on the fare chart and what was actually being implemented on the receipts. I thought on how many other times we have remained silent as a people while taking what is given to us without ever questioning the validity of situations. Majority of the people are accustomed to the culture of fitting in the system and going through it because no one else is asking or questioning so we have to follow suit.  From the people’s reactions, it became clear that the majority of those who had paid were bothered with the same rate but no one spoke aloud until this man spoke his mind. Little did he know that he had spoken for the majority who had calmly fitted into the system for fear of talking and being judged.  This particular man was unique with his curiosity.

Those who bring about change are bold and look at things differently to take note on what others may regard as normal or may not be seeing. The society is filled with people who are looking while only a few see. The persistence and stubbornness of one man saved all the passengers the extra twenty shillings coin that had been imposed on receipts. I realized that unless we question things, decisions and actions, the situation will always remain the same. Bringing about change is a process that is met with resistance and ridicule towards the change agents while the benefits are reaped by a majority in the society. The courage lies in sticking to the beliefs and principles an individual believes are right to the end to emerge successful.  Not only that, all the passengers became alert of the fare chart and vowed that they will always use it to hold the touts accountable. This implies that the action of one man had opened the eyes or enlightened the minds of others in the bus within the short journey we had. The passengers remained talking of the incident all through the journey. ″Mzee, you are our hero!“  Shouted another voice, as I alighted at the stage while pondering over the drift of events that afternoon.

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The Power of Social Memory: How is Africa Remembered?

Memory-ImageThis week, an article from Emmanuel Katongole on Social Memory: Remembering Idi Amin got me thinking! Just a quick preview, he gives an account of his experiences when he lands abroad at the airport. The white people are all on his case greeting him and asking the whereabouts of his country. Once he mentions he is from Uganda, they all forget about the discussion and pose questions to him on whether he knew Idi Amin. Everyone is asking him; where is Idi Amin? Did you ever see him? Did you shake his hands? ‘He was such a bad dictator!’’ they kept lamenting, as Katongole got irritated on how the Whites had intentionally chosen to think of his country Uganda, as a place that is underdeveloped and with below average leaders who only serve as dictators despite the many other good things that have since happened.

In an attempt offer solutions on how Uganda and Africa as a whole will overcome these challenges of violence, conflicts, poverty, poor leadership and the other challenges, I conquer with Katongole when he says that there is need to adopt clear strategies of thinking, be more spiritual, master the principles of ethics, have measures that will ensure the most appropriate economic policies are in place and making the right choices of leaders. Reading on Amin’s dictatorship, I disagree with his theoretical beliefs and actions. Dictatorship is not the best for Africa, but again some level of  dictatorship is required if progress is to be achieved. When people are too democratic, the privilege is abused and nothing can be achieved. As I listen to the debate, I tend to think that some minimal level of dictatorship is actually essential for a country to develop.

I wonder why Africa is always remembered for the bad things and leaders that ever happened in history. What of German’s Adolf Hitler who in my opinion was worse than Idi Amin with regards to the collateral damages he caused. What strikes me in this article is the fact that most Ugandans today have chosen to remain silent about the experiences of the Idi Amin’s regime and for the few who remember, they do so in fear and in whispers, wanting no forms of associations with the period. This implies that Africa is nurturing a culture of running away from the problem or simply exercising the proverbial notion of burying its head in the sand and hoping that such memories of violence instigated by past leaders will simply fade away.

This is contrary to the ultimate proposition the author makes and which I also conquer with that unless we are as individuals and communities, able to examine our present patterns of life and choices, and locate them within a comprehensive narrative of social history, we are neither able to understand who we are in the present nor clearly able to see the alternatives that might be available to us. Only by confronting the past, which still somehow lives on in the present, are we able to envision or imagine meaningful and viable alternatives for the future. If this is not achieved, chances are that the West will continue stigmatizing the continent with the bad memories that we will get rooted in them.

Even as I wind up my reflection today, I cannot fail to take note of a critical point that Katongole notes that in most cases, those who have been conquered by powerful leaders or political figures have the tendency of always wanting to imitate the very characteristics of the conqueror as manifested in the clothing, traits and even mannerisms, part of what I consider as modernization. Taking it from this perspective, the only comfort I get by being a Christian is that we are more than conquerors in Christ thus should endeavour and strive to be like him in every of their actions and decisions we make.

Christians are invited to be a people of memory by remembering that they are who they have become on the present because of what God has done, and the promises God has revealed in the lives of others who have gone before them. We should thus keep enriching ourselves with the social memory of the work of Christ during his earthly ministry of giving identity even to the forgotten lot. That regardless of the memories the world has on Africans and anything good that can come from it, Christ has given us an identity that cannot be forgotten. That is the most important for me even as I work to promote development as an African elite! I recommend Emmanuel Katongole’s article of future for Africa to my fellow Africans who care on the role of social memory of our past.

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Online Degrees-Real or Sham?

A story is told of a company manager who always asked all the job applicants in his organization one particular question: “Have you ever enrolled for an online course?”  Asked why he always insisted on this particular question, he replied: “It is the only way I can prove that the candidates are computer literate.” Well, he is entitled to his opinion.

Internet ads keep popping on your PC screen whenever you open various sites, persuading you join universities abroad to pursue further education online. For some time now, the idea of getting online degrees has been received with much skepticism especially in the job market in some countries.  A lady I recently met at an academic forum testified that once, the interviewing panel for a position she had applied for dismissed her Masters qualifications on basis that she received it online. This then leads to the question on whether these degrees are real or a mere sham.

In the modern world where it is all about having a cutting edge above all the other candidates, online is the way to go! Another gentleman complained of having been a victim of bogus online universities that offer fake degrees that later become useless in the job market. To me, the challenge here lies in identifying legally certified institutions that offer online education and not the dismissal of online conferred degrees. Online education comes with its sets of benefits.

To begin with is the use of the acquired skills in the immediate work environment. Contrary to the actual learning process for four years where students pursue their degrees; then wait to put into practice what they have learnt in the employment environment, online degrees allow students to implement knowledge gained in the classroom set up almost immediately. It is all about learning it online today and applying it tomorrow at your work place. In my opinion, what better way there is than to pile a heap of knowledge in our minds for years before applying it?

Secondly, taking an online degree helps boost your computer literacy skills. The minimum requirement to succeed in online education is to have access to a computer, internet and be able to receive and reply to mails. Accessing the links on the institution website and perusing through the modules all require computer proficiency and thus an online degree can only make you a ‘wizard’ at this.

The world is constantly on the move and so should be our knowledge of issues-dynamic and up to date. This has made learning a continuous process that has to be juggled with the normal duties of working, raising families and conducting other businesses. With this in mind, the only way out is opting for an online degree because of its flexible schedules. Individuals can then have classes and learn at their own pace in line with personal plans without jeopardizing either side.

Unlike the physical class attendance where only the specific few who are outspoken and free in class answer/ask questions and participate in debates, there is a greater student application and participation through online education. There is the aspect of anonymity and privacy as you can learn from the comfort of your room. This allows for the sharing of ideas and exchanging of experiences and asking questions without any form of intimidation from others. The older students who might feel uncomfortable sharing a class with the youths due to age gaps now have a place to turn to!

There is constant access to classrooms online. This online education is as accessible as the availability of the internet. Getting connected to a local network is all one needs to complete assignments given and conduct the projects; and within the Kenyan context, this saves a lot of time and energy that could be wasted on traffic jams going for a two hour class late in the evening, twice a week for a whole year.

Opportunities to network with faculty and students from across the world are available through online education. The social sites online can be utilized to connect globally. As a student in Kenya, your online professor in film making could be based in Columbia while the other in charge of script writing could be situated in Italy, all teaching in the same university. So will be your colleagues. Isn’t this the beauty of diversity and an enormous experience in sharing of ideas from various backgrounds?

You have heard that the world has become a global village and so has every other business that goes on in it. Those opposed to or refusing to recognize online earned degrees are only narrowing their minds and limiting themselves to the available opportunities.

We should instead shift our focus to measures that will help us identify the accredited institutions that offer such online degrees; to prevent most citizens from being manipulated by quacks, who are out to swindle money from unsuspecting citizens. This in my opinion is the greatest challenge facing the provision of online degrees. Aristotle warns that in judging something, we should refrain from terming it as wholly good or wholly evil as nothing is 100% perfect. Instead, let us focus on the greater percentage of good that comes with online learning to earn our degrees. Thinking of how to further your education amidst your very busy schedule? Think online!

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Innovations:Are they worth the course?

Energy_innovationsI attended a conference that helped me understand the difference between innovation and creativity. Creativity basically involves coming up with new ideas but innovation involves bringing those ideas to life. This said, I can’t help but sympathize with Uncle Konia’s dilemma. For those who may not know, Uncle is the guy behind the composition of the famous song “Merimela”. This song has since filled the Nairobi streets’ airwaves and now most people have adopted it as their phone ringtones. Kudos, but Uncle has nothing to show or celebrate about.

But watching  his story featured on one of the local television stations, I can’t help but feel sorry for the guy. He has not benefited even a penny from this hit song composition! Reason? The obvious Kenyan style in the Music Industry-PIRACY. The young man painfully narrated how he heard the news of his music video circulation in the city from his rural home, forcing him to travel to Nairobi and settle in Kibera! The realization that the rumors were true crushed his ego the most. His song video was already out yet he had not even started producing the actual video. Well, someone had done the thinking and fixing ahead of him and pocketed all the profit that there was.

This gets me thinking on innovation. What will enable us know that we have innovated something? Is it worth innovating if we stand to benefit nothing at all? At what level is an idea considered an innovation? Can innovations be protected? Does innovation have size? These questions are worth thinking about as we seek to provide an ample environment for innovations to blossom.

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The role of communication in creating a more dynamic Business Environment in Africa

depositphotos_3158855-Communication-teamCommunication is a dynamic process in which a transmitter and a receiver exchange and share information, opinions, feelings and responses (FAO, 2002).  The process takes place between people, groups of people and among the masses. It is therefore worth noting that a business does not exist in a vacuum but in a people-surrounded environment. This means that communication is the essential glue that sticks all the elements of a dynamic business environment together in various different ways.

To begin with, communication enables business leaders to engage people’s thinking. Organizations are made of individuals that are all different and endowed with unique ideas that could propel the business environment to the next level. As such, it is therefore very crucial for business leaders to involve their organizational members in decision making to create a more dynamic business environment. This can only be achieved through open and effective communication, to make every employee in the business understand how they fit in and contribute towards the vision and mission of the company. People produce high quality results when they feel involved in the process thus benefits the entire business surroundings.

The Management thought of the 21st century requires that all organizational members ought to challenge the way business is done; by working to identify the new problems, developing solutions to them and applying those solutions to make a difference. This can only be achieved through efficient communication.  When employees engage in lateral forms of communication, they are able to coordinate activities of their departments in pursuit of the company’s strategic objectives/goals, and thus benefit the entire business environment across the continent.

It is obvious that the world has become a global village and so businesses have also become interdependent. Today companies work with partners, donors and other stakeholders from across the globe and only communication is making this a reality. Businesses are making their presence be felt in the environment through new media tools online. Communication through the social networking sites has become inevitable for any business that seeks to make an impact in its surroundings.

Getting feedback from clients is one of the strongest pillars in a dynamic business environment. This requires developing consumer-oriented type of communication strategies for the business’ key target audience in the market. The business must be ready to evaluate its performance in the market through feedback from clients; focusing more on the on customers’ needs and expectations of quality products and services, whether positive or negative, to enable it make the necessary adjustments so as to remain relevant. These feedbacks can only be received through proper laid down channels of communication.

Geoffrey Bellman, author of The Beauty of the Beast, observes that corporations have the vital accelerating power in the transformation of the global market place. As observed earlier, these corporations are made of individuals. Therefore the ultimate success in the modern business environment starts when the right messages are disseminated and received by the targeted population through effectual communication. Communication therefore is the main recipe for accomplishment in any vibrant business environment in Africa.

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Facing Turbulent times

turbulent-timesA person of turbulent times is sensitive and tender, capable of tears when encountered by pain, poverty and spiritual emptiness, a person who wishes to share a truth which extends peace to a troubled heart. This person is moved to action when opportunity comes to relieve suffering and to break down the walls of human alienation.

When the picture looks bleak, don’t ask God to take you out of it but ask Him to join you in it. When you trust, you can be knocked down, but never out. And even when knocked down, there is a strong arm to pick you up and a gentle hand to dust you off. Troubles are inevitable, misery is optional and the other option is joy.

Commit your past to the forgiveness of God, commit you present to the love of God and commit your future to the providence of God.

Adopted from facing Turbulent times by Gordon MacDonald