I would like to start with this quote from a former President of the United States as it so relevant to our Education Fund Program and what we are trying to achieve.
“Education is like a diamond with many facets: It includes the basic mastery of numbers and letters that give us access to the treasury of human knowledge, accumulated and refined through the ages; it includes technical and vocational training as well as instruction in science, higher mathematics, and humane letters.” ~ Ronald Reagan
When it comes to life after formal secondary school education, Amara Charitable Trust has been ahead of the times, advocating for vocational and technical training. We recognize that not every student can be a doctor, teacher or lawyer and while many have these aspirations, sadly their grades influence what the next step in their educational journey will be.
Unfortunately, up until recently, the education system failed students in so far as focusing on just academics was concerned. While it is all well and good that students learn a range of subjects that broadens their minds, there needs to come a time in the course of their schooling where the decision about focusing primarily on academics needs to shift to preparing those less academically inclined to a more practical course of study.
Keanu Reeves once said, “Not every child will become a lawyer or a doctor. teach your kids that it is okay to work with your hands and build cool stuff.”
Until last year, our education system focused on academics and educators prepared the learners to become “knowledge workers”. There was a notion that everyone had to go to college or university and pursue degree courses in order to be considered a success. Employers too, put great emphasis on academic qualifications. In Kenya, those students who are not predisposed towards academics often get left behind and it is worse for students from disadvantaged families.
These students really do not have many future prospects and can only envision a future as casual labourers or in the informal sector as “jua kali” artisans. Literally translated, “jua kali” means fierce sun and the term was coined to refer to the typical outdoor situation such entrepreneurs often find themselves working in. While this is an innovative sector, it is plagued with competition, price wars and a scarcity of resources.
There needs to be a paradigm shift in how we view education and eventually success. Is success all about making money? Can success be about doing something you love even if it is working with your hands and getting grease under your fingernails?
Sadly, we live in a world of consumerism so producers or people who do manual work are not always valued. There is this underlying assumption when we see people working with their hands that they had no other options or were too “dumb” to go to college. We are grateful to them for providing a service that many of us would never consider doing ourselves. How many of us, when we purchase a table for example, stop to think about the craftsmen who looked at a plain piece of wood, saw the potential of creating a beautiful piece of furniture from it and then went about making that table for us to purchase and enjoy? Skilled artisans need to be assigned value like we would to any other professional, only then will the perception on vocational training change.
At Amara, we believe that education should be about developing each student’s individual strengths and tapping into their latent talents so that they can go on to become productive adults, doing something they actually enjoy while at the same time earning a living. This aligns with our vision to Educate, Empower and Enhance the lives of youth in rural Kenya.
The newly launched Competency Based Curriculum seeks to address the shortcomings in the previous education system by ensuring education will respond to the needs of our society. The new system promises to deliver learning, by evaluating the strengths and weaknesses of learners and preparing them for employment. We hope that this new plan works as intended, as there will be fewer learners exiting formal education believing they are failures due to their poor grades.
Today, we have ninety-five students whom we have enrolled into technical training institutions undertaking vocational courses, with three waiting to start in September 2023.
We are supporting the training of motor vehicle mechanics, electricians, plumbers, masons, fashion designers, welders, caterers, hairdressers, beauty therapists, food science and processing technicians, building and civil work engineers, agriculturalists, metal fabricators, cabinet makers, community and social workers.
There is real value in encouraging young people, who are not necessarily book smart, to consider vocational training. In a world that is fast becoming automated, many white-collar jobs will soon become obsolete. For example, self-service checkouts and online booking services, will render cashiers and travel agents jobless in the near future. These days you can have services to repair your computer delivered over a wire via a call centre located on a completely different continent. The same will never be true for services that must be delivered in person or on site, like repairing a burst pipe, laying an electrical conduit or fixing a broken door.
We need to make studying a manual trade, attractive. We can show these students that their future livelihoods will have more job security as there will always be a need for masons, carpenters, plumbers, motor vehicle mechanics and electricians. Competent tradesmen and women will never be replaced entirely, nor can their services be outsourced. It is very likely that there will be some degree of automation that may come up in the near future, but it will never replace those services 100%.
Our students come from very disadvantaged backgrounds and have discovered that they can find odd jobs in the vicinity of their colleges putting into practice the skills they are learning, while getting paid. It is not unusual for our hairdressing students to work in the evenings braiding hair and doing nails. Or for our building technology students to take advantage of the numerous construction projects around to find work, either laying tiles or mixing cement.
They are truly breathing life into our vision and making it real and vibrant.
Since the launch of our program, we have had six students successfully complete their courses last year and find employment almost immediately in their respective fields of training. We have a further twenty-five students completing this year and are excited to see them take on the world.
There is nothing more fulfilling than seeing them succeed and do well. They are becoming confident adults, developing their leadership skills and are growing secure in the knowledge that they are learning practical skills that will secure employment opportunities for them or maybe even allow them to become entrepreneurs.
The success of our vision is being made manifest in their achievements and we are grateful and humbled to be part of their journey towards becoming skilled tradespeople.