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Which economy is not driven by motivated citizens?

FINANCIAL STANDARD
By XN Iraki | May 25th 2021
Motorist (boda boda) operator fuels at Rubis petrol station along Koinange Street, Nairobi. [Elvis Ogina, Standard]

It was the most classical question of our time: What would you like to be when you grow up?

In the rural areas, the answer was very predictable, and I suspect it still is - a nurse or a policeman.

Later we added a tour guide, an air hostess or a pilot. Those were the professionals we came across or heard about. Today, one can add a motorbike owner. 

I wanted to be a veterinarian because the artificial insemination (AI) guys drove a Suzuki that never got stuck in the mud!

More inspirational was a veterinary officer in my neighbourhood who owned a TV, his aerial visible from afar.  

In the urban areas, the answer was probably very different. Students could have heard of or even met doctors, engineers, lawyers, computer programmers and other more modern professionals.

A longitudinal study of how career aspirations have changed over time would be great. 

The students were inspired by the professionals they saw on their way to school or their neighbours.

That restricted their worldview. There was no concerted effort to expose students to emerging careers and professions beyond textbooks.

That is still the missing link in our schools. Do you recall the late President Moi vouching for the return of Carey Francis Maths in the place of modern Maths, the building blocks of computer science? 

Guest speakers and mentors give new perspectives on professions and jobs. But how many guest speakers does an average school get in a year beyond preachers, who have unfettered access to the schools? I have nothing against the men of the cloth.  

Such guests would inspire the students to work harder than concentrating on revision, tuition or benchmarking tours. 

This would be more inspirational than “motivational speakers.” Most professionals are willing to share their career experience with students, for free.  

Some of my most inspirational moments in school were not studying simultaneous equations, calculus or physical geography. It was listening to guest speakers.

I recall Fred Ojiambo talking about law, Mutiso Menezes about architecture, Dr Robert Ouko talking about diplomacy and Kimani Wanyoike talking about politics, among many other professionals who graced our school.

For curious reasons, I do not recall professors coming to talk to us. In university, I recall meeting Charles Duke, one of the astronauts who landed on the moon, never mind he came as a preacher. These talks inspired me and were a good distraction from the often boring school routine. Students want reality and some change.

I wonder how they are coping without co-curricular activities and all the energy accumulated during the Covid-19 induced break. Why do we ignore this inspiration from outside our schools?  

Traditions are one problem. We go to school, get taught because we do not like reading, pass or fail exams and leave. It is no wonder students are traumatised by life after school when reality sets in.

If we let realists talk to students, they would be more prepared for life after school. Realists should not just be high-end professionals, but businessmen, kiosk owners and other traders as well. Each has a story about their life from school to work and marriage, regrets and successes. It is strange that though most students marry later in life, rarely does anyone talk about marriage in school without a religious slant. The other problem unique to Africa is that we see such speakers as “competitors.” They may overshadow teachers, principals or board members. We also resist new ideas that may force us to change. 

Such visitors or guests are also seen as having a hidden agenda such as looking for tenders, votes, and influence.

This is why preachers have easy access; they are seen as harmless. Musicians and comedians are welcome too. 

When we publicise examination results, do we ever factor in the role of motivational speakers in the performance?  

Covid-19 has provided us with a golden opportunity to connect our students to professionals and inspirers. Through zoom and other applications, they can talk to students from the comfort of their offices or workplaces. 

Students should learn about life from experience, not just from textbooks, which are not updated regularly. When will Covid-19, electric cars and SpaceX get into our textbooks? A classroom should be more than books, students and teachers. Has the Competency-Based Curriculum (CBC) factored that? 

Some schools in the West and China are going farther. They now require students to take a semester abroad and immerse themselves in a different culture.

Reduce indiscipline

two years ago, I had two sessions with students from Tsinghua University, China’s top university, while on an exchange programme with the University of Nairobi.

Some high schools in Kenya have such programmes, but only a few students participate. We should loop in the vast majority. Even visiting Tanzania or Uganda would make a big difference to a student. Is the East African Community just about trade?   

Do you recall President Bill Clinton as a student meeting President JF Kennedy then deciding he would one day become the US president?  

Finally, such inspiration will reduce indiscipline that lasts beyond school. Students hear echoes of such inspiration long after school as they marry, build careers and hopefully age gracefully. 

Which economy is not driven by inspired citizens?

 

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