Dance in a trance

Monday, February 28, 2011

Strong Kenyan Presence at Doha meeting

the Star Friday, December 17, 2010 starlife 25
It is something of an irony that a
gathering of world experts on education
dominated by Western representatives
should find their greatest inspiration
in Third World countries, especially in
The World Innovation Summit for
Education (WISE) 2010 – an initiative of
the Qatar Foundation, is characteristic of
this country which has just bid successfully
for the 2022 World Cup. They are also
bidding to be a major centre of excellence
in e-learning since they are aware that even
vast reserves of oil and LNG can have their
ups and downs.
To that end, the QF brought together
over 1200 leaders to put their heads
together and come up with solutions for
the most pressing problems in a world
where change is moving ahead at the
fastest pace in history.
If Africa is to achieve the much-touted
MDGs by 2015, mobile technology will
need to become a key player.
Why Africa? It provides a huge challenge
in that in the next decade the continent will
be the largest user of mobile technology.
It has leapfrogged the necessity to have a
first world standard infrastructure, and
by-passing landlines, has produced some
of the most innovative developments in the
field , notably Safaricom’s M-Pesa in 2007.
Four years later there are 11.8 million
Among the most impressive contributors
to the discussion was Kenyan Jessica
Colaco who at the tender age of 26 is
already a TED (Technology Entertainment
and Design) fellow and has created an
impressive presence on the world stage.
Her passion for learning by using mobile
phones is infectious: at the conference,
the four grey-suited elderly men who sat
next to her on the stage were completely
She showed early promise at Strathmore
University where, as a student, she
found herself being consulted on ways
of managing mobile technolgy. She soon
became manager of Nairobi’s iHub which
began in March of this year.
Several times a year she runs boot camps
at which young people can come and have
crash courses in a learning method which
brushes aside stuffy school textbooks and
classrooms, and gives the learner a chance
to be creative and self -motivated.
In a world where there are not enough
teachers, particularly forward-looking
ones, the graduates of the mobile camps
can teach others according to the timehonoured
principle of Each One Teach
One. After all there’s nothing like teaching
to enhance your own learning skills, is
“We train the trainers,” she says. “We
tap into the community.” They share ideas
and brainstorm in groups. Education is
intended to be a communal activity, which
gives learners the power to direct their own
The iHub develops mobile applications
and is open to everyone. There are
already 1,800 registered users. A threetier
membership model gives members
the access to resources, books events and
It has uses in crises that no other
medium has dreamt of: information about
Haiti’s disastrous earthquake earlier this
year, for instance, was relayed to people
by mobile phones who were then able to
provide help on the ground where it was
most needed. “Thirty percent of Kenyans
have mobile phones,” Jessica argues. “How
can we tap into this?”
This is a whole new model of learning
which sees as its goal constant evolution
and the ability to put into practice lifelong
learning. It is a universe away from
classrooms and textbooks.
Words are often replaced by games,
images, colour coding and mathematics. It
has already been used in innovative ways
in areas such as Kisumu where fishermen
can call market sellers at the lakeside to
check on the prices for the day.
In a country where distance and
inaccessibility can destroy the incentive to
create business, the mobile phone is king.
It doesn’t have to deal with potholes or
police. It gets straight to the point.
It isn’t the only example of Kenyan
ingenuity: Evans Wadongo’s solar lantern
was highly commended for its ability to
create power in resource poor areas in
an environmentally friendly and readily
imitable manner.
But language skills certain haven’t
been left out: IVR (Individual Voice
Recognition) allows learners to choose
from a menu options which enable them to
have short bursts of instruction at frequent
intervals – the best way of learning,
especially with languages which require
constant reinforcement.
As part of her presentation Jessica
showed an advertisement where a shy
woman has to answer her husband’s
phone in English; he is in the shower
and she has to respond which does,
charmingly. “He will get back to you as
soon as he can,” she replies, smiling.
The confidence such knowledge can
bring is a great motivator for learning.
And it puts into practice that maxim so
often talked about but rarely used in the
classroom: don’t talk about it. Do it.
Milk farmers have been able to access
information about the storage of milk
and to learn about prices through using
SMSes. Their profits have soared, they can
feed their families and send children to
Aley Nyika Pamoja is an event
management company which enables
customers to pay online, assuring the
business that it has funds to proceed. No
banks, no hidden charges. No defaulting
on promises.
How young should learners be? “As
young as you want,” replies our mentor.
In Indonesia a 10-year-old girl translated
invented a game in which she translated
from Indonesian to English by using
colourful images.“It must become part of
the school curriculum, Jessica concludes.
In Gandhi’s words, “We need to be the
change we want to see.”
HSTAR Life a meeting
of minds
at literary
pages 26 -27
Strong Kenyan Presence At
Qatar Education summit
letter from
By Betty Caplan
in search of excellence: Participants at WISE 2010. Inset, Kenya’s Jessica Colaco
In a world where
there are not enough
teachers, particularly
forward-looking ones,
the graduates of the
mobile camps can
teach others according
to the principle of Each
One Teach One

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