Importance of Education
Importance of Education
Good morning…jambo sana Executive officers of Masinde Muliro University of Science and Technology, University Faculty Members, Students, Friends and Colleagues It is a rare privilege for me to be with you today at Musinde Muliro University of Science and Technology. Since 1972 it has been a source of inspiration, a leading light for studies in higher learning. I was very pleased in 2007 to hear that MMUST had received full status as a university in its own right. I commend you for your new program initiatives, research and development projects.
I was especially pleased to hear of the success of the recent Health Care Conference on the role of International Collaboration in reducing Maternal-Child Mortality. Today I have the privilege of talking about one of my favourite topics, Canada. I first arrived as a young immigrant from Denmark. In those days people were coming from all over the world, from Europe, the Middle East, Asia and Africa, seeking a better life. Canada was growing and developing as a nation. People brought with them their culture, traditions and values.
It was not just about them, it was about a new land, a new life and new found freedom. There was this amazing sense that together we could build a nation. Like most countries Canada came into being at the stroke of a pen. On July 1, 1867 Canada became a self-governing political entity; however, it was far from being a nation. A nation takes time to build, to grow and mature. A country is bound by the fortunes of its history and geography. A nation on the other hand is a living evolving entity that reflects the ideals and dreams of its people and the reality of living together.
What makes a country a nation? As I reflect on the Canadian experience I would propose three key elements…time, shared experiences and a collective will to define and build a stronger, richer and more just society. Even today, after 142 years, Canadians continue to ask the question, “What do we stand for, what are our values and what kind of nation are we seeking to build? ” Canadians value diversity and show respect for each other’s traditions. They are patriotic and love their country. They seek a strong economy and are proud of their place in the world.
Canadians want a society where people of different languages, faiths and traditions can reconcile their differences and work together. But it was not always so. Imagine a land thirty-six times the size of Kenya, so harsh that early settlers perished as they faced their first winter; and so abundant that explorers like Samuel de Champlain reported there were so many fish in the St Laurence River that he could walk on water. Try to picture a place so vast, surrounded by three oceans, containing six million lakes, with glaciers and snow capped mountains where the highest peak rises over 19,000 ft above sea level.
Envision a climate where four distinct seasons rule over immense stretches of grasslands, open wilderness and maritime coastal waterways. That land is Canada. 400 years ago the English and French first met Aboriginal peoples who for centuries had established their own tribal customs and traditions. Today Canada embraces full diversity where the nations of the world have come to its borders. Its largest city Toronto is home to 4 million people where 400 languages and 600 dialects are spoken.
It stands as a model to the world – a diverse community, living together in peace, respecting the rights and freedoms of citizens to live within the bounds of the law. Canada stands tall and is respected around the world for its peace keeping missions and its role in promoting human rights. Canada has made significant contributions globally by sharing its vast natural resources, providing high quality research and development in science and technology, and generously supplying human resources in humanitarian endeavours worldwide. Canada has much in common with Kenya.
As members of the Commonwealth we speak a common language, we have a similar legal and judicial system and we support a democratic system of government. Since 1961 Canada has provided active support to Kenya in areas of education, healthcare and governance. Care Canada, Free the Children, and World Vision represent the work of caring Canadians. There are an estimated 750 NGO’s operating within Kenya today. In 1981 the Mackay Report brought into being the 8-4-4 school system that recommended the removal of A level exams and a new curriculum to include more math and science. There was an emphasis on vocational skills and higher learning.
Dr. Mackay was a Canadian university professor who offered his advice and assistance to the Kenyan government. Every time you think of your KCSE, think of Canada. In 1979 there was a Canada Kenya agreement to carry out the development of the electrical transmission system. Canada provided $83M (5B KSh) for this project. So when you see an electrical power station and overhead electricity lines think of Canada. In 2003 with the advent of free Primary school education, the Canadian government allocated nearly 800 M KSh to provide programs for needy children to access schools. Two years ago Canada sent $1M to the Red Cross in Kenya and $3.
3M to Canadian NGO’s to provide assistance to Kenyans seriously affected by the violence of the 2007 disputed elections. Last year through the World Food Program and the Canadian Foodgrains Bank, Canada provided $30M to Kenya to feed four million people worst hit by the drought. Kenya has also given much to Canada and the world. I think of tourism, safaris, tea, coffee, horticulture, marathon runners like Catherine Ndereba, and of course the now world famous Hon Wangari Maathai, 2004 Nobel Peace Prize winner. Of great importance to Canada are the 15,000 Kenyans who now call Canada their home.
Let’s return to nation building. What does it take to build a nation? It’s not enough to go through a discovery process in order to define what kind of nation you want to build. Getting there is the challenge. Creating a blueprint for a building project is meaningless unless the structure is actually built. So it is with a nation. Kenya Vision 2030 is a good example of that. It deals with major issues of poverty, youth unemployment, income disparities, gender inequalities and the scourge of HIV and Aids. It also addresses climate change and the challenge of global warming.
More importantly it prescribes ways and means to meet the targets of 2030. Yet there remains a large gap between the reality of 2010 and the goals of Kenya Vision 2030. I would submit to you that education is one of the most important foundations towards building a strong and vibrant nation. Education must be seen as an investment, not a fiscal liability. Both knowledge and skill are a form of capital, and this capital is a product of deliberate investment. Canada’s experience is similar to a number of Western countries, where an increase in national output is a direct result of investment in human capital.
Education and skills training open up opportunities and choices that otherwise would not be an option. Canadians support the notion of a strong publically supported education system where there is equal opportunity for all to succeed. For example, since the early 1980’s there has been significant research and practice in the area of special education. Those who have learning disabilities or who are physically challenged have greater opportunity to learn and get the assistance they need with the highest level of integration possible.
Educational institutions play a central role in the development of students. Basic skills at the primary school level provide the foundations for greater knowledge and understanding at the secondary level. Sadly, Canada suffers from a 20% illiteracy rate that prevents young people from many employment opportunities. Without the equivalent of the KCSE, youth are disadvantaged and at best find menial or low paying jobs. Others cannot afford training beyond secondary school. Access to skilled jobs is therefore limited.
Elementary and secondary school education must adequately prepare students to enter the work place or continue learning at the post secondary level. A conservative estimate indicates that 25% of Canadian youth are “at risk”, with many facing multiple challenges. Seventy-five percent of those who are or have spent time in a correctional facility are high school drop outs. Eighty percent of young offenders have moderate to severe learning difficulties. Adequate resources and preventative strategies must be ensured in order to meet the educational and developmental needs of these marginalized youth.
At the tertiary or post secondary level there are specific skills in the area of critical thinking, communications, problem solving, research and technological awareness that provide a basis for employment and future productivity. A major challenge for educational institutions is to adapt to change and to keep up with forces within the market place. Things change so fast that people tend to learn more on the job than in school. Higher levels of education provide greater opportunities for career employment. Jobs create capital and wealth builds stronger communities.
It does not, however account for the people who are well qualified yet cannot find work due to factors beyond their control such as socioeconomic status, ethnicity and gender. Overall however, it is clear that higher levels of education produce greater productivity and accessibility to financial and human resources. An investment in education is an investment in the nation itself. Education empowers people. No longer at the mercy of others, they can be in control of their own productivity and livelihood. Life-long learning is a way of life in Canada.
People understand that they may have anywhere from 2-5 careers within a lifetime, each demanding its own skill set. Adult learning is commonplace. This has given rise to the fourth dimension of learning; that of e-learning where the internet opens up a whole new world of communications and knowledge. Through distance learning it is now possible for people living in remote areas far from the services of a college or university to continue their training. Education enables Canadians to participate in the society to which they belong. That fundamentally is what nation building is all about – participation.
For Canadians that means people getting involved in a meaningful exercise at different levels of society in order to reflect on and define the Canada they want. Often that takes place at town hall meetings where politicians consult with the grass roots. People are able to have direct contact with their local politician and present their views through surveys and other forms of communication. During elections a referendum can be held to determine the wish of the people on certain matters. The question is publicized and there is opportunity for public debate.
A recent case occurred in the Province of Quebec where people voted on whether they wished to remain in Canada. The referendum was defeated by a very narrow margin. Today thankfully, Quebec remains as an important province within Canada. What do we consider a good life to be? How do we reach consensus about this? How do we go about implementing it? What are the standards to which we must all reach for and below which are unacceptable to us? These are not easy questions and they should not be taken lightly. Although the answers vary from one country to the next, it is fair to say that education is the key to a better future.
In a knowledge-based economy Canada needs a healthy, well educated and skilled workforce that provides students with superior learning opportunities, where all students have equal opportunity to achieve their potential and where standards of excellence remain high. We need to strengthen the public education system and at the tertiary level we need to build capacity for higher learning, research and innovation. It has been said that without a vision the people perish. Nation building demands leadership from people who can articulate a vision and who support building capacity for quality education.
It’s the education system that promotes an intellectual environment that promotes debate and actively engages people in issues of social justice. In the midst of economic downturns, decline in job security and global insecurity it is a strong school system that keeps a nation on course. Seven years after Kenya achieved independence a close friend of ours travelled to East Africa. After three months of Kiswahili and Kikuyu language training in Nairobi he and his young family moved to Githumu in the Highlands of Central Province south of the Aberdare Mountains.
For nine years Ron taught English at Githumu SS under the auspices of the African Christian Church and Schools (ACC&S) and the Canadian Baptist Overseas Mission Board. In 1979 Ron Ward and his family decided to focus on work in North East Province. Moving to Garissa, Ron continued his work with the ACC&S, this time in partnership with World Vision. It was at that time that Ron met Omar Sheikh Farah who was the Provincial Education Officer and the chairman of a local committee of Kenyan elders. Ron joined this action group in their focus to find solutions to the economic and social problems faced by Kenyans living in Garissa District.
What emerged was a project directed by Ron that would significantly impact the school system. Ron coordinated a World Vision program that provided scholarships for some 5,000 children and youth to attend school. This program extended beyond Garissa into small towns and villages including Dadaab, located near the border of Somalia. One of the beneficiaries of this program is the Hon. Bare Aden Duale, MP and Assistant Minister for Livestock Development. Recently the Minister greeted Ron in Garissa with the following statement, “because of you I am what I am today.
” He was referring to the fact that he was a young student in the education program Ron had facilitated. This real life story shows what education can do and what a young boy did with his life as a result of being given a chance to learn. All anyone needs is a chance at life, an opportunity to make a positive contribution. I believe there is a strong correlation between the strength of a nation and the education of its people. The stronger the school system the healthier is the nation. As students, educators and citizens we have the ability and the responsibility to ensure access to education for all.
We must also take the lead in debating not only the future direction of the education system, but the kind of ‘nation’ to which we want for ourselves and our children. The future of both our nations depends on it. The reality is that Canada and Kenya must strengthen their communities of learning. We must endeavour to close the gap in equity, affirming the right of all people to participate in the society to which they belong. We need to ensure that we embrace all those who are marginalized; the broken, the needy, the unwanted and the unloved – those who without help would never be able to attend school.
Nation building includes ensuring that the weakest members of society have a chance at living a life of meaning and purpose. Gender equity is a universal challenge. Gender equity demands equal opportunity for boys and girls. Education by definition is unbiased and does not place a higher value on either male or female. Former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan recently offered this bold statement to the world: “Study after study has taught us that there is no tool for development more effective than the education of girls.
No other policy is as likely to raise economic productivity, lower infant and maternal mortality, improve nutrition and promote health, including the prevention of HIV/AIDS. ” I do not know where life will take you; but I do know this – that the sum of all your educational experiences is greater than you can ever imagine. You are blest with talent and gifted by opportunity. And so I ask you the question, “what will you do with that gift? ” You say, “I am just one person, what can I give, what can I do to make a difference? ” I say, “We can all do something”.
In 1995 Free the Children was founded by 12 year old Canadian Craig Kielberger when he gathered 11 school friends to begin fighting child labour. Today it is the largest network of children helping children through education, with more than one million young people involved in programs in 45 countries, including Kenya. Free the Children is championing the “Me to We” movement where thousands of youth across Canada are actively demonstrating the spirit of Harambee by raising awareness and funds for needy children around the world.
They believe in the idea that the world is not about “me”, it is about “us” living together in community. “We can all do something” “sisi zote twaweza kufanya kitu” A Swahili saying is simple but true: “Kidogo kidogo hujaza kibaba”…little by little fills the cup. Here’s a brilliant example of young orphaned children at Nambale Primary School who are sponsored by a Canadian NGO. They are also known as “helping hands” because they are required to bring a stick of wood each day to school. These are delivered to widows in the community who in turn will have extra firewood for cooking.
The children also fetch water and do some general duties to assist these widows. Each student makes a contribution every day to make another’s burden lighter. They don’t know it, but they are establishing in their young lives a lifestyle all nation builders possess – helping others to succeed. Do you see yourself as a nation builder? Someone with a passion to help create a great nation; someone with a zeal to improve your community; someone who seeks to help those in need; and above all, strives for peace through consensus building and friendship? Not all can lead, but all can learn.
Not all will be elected to office, but all can serve. Not all can be creative, but all can make a contribution. Not all can build a bridge of understanding, but all can live a life of peace. Not all can inspire a nation, but all can help to build it. Asante sana. Michael Frederiksen President, CES Canada The Role of Education in Nation Building – A Canadian Perspective Abstract: Universal access to education is fundamental to a healthy and vibrant society. The principles of justice and freedom for all are hallmarks of a democratic society where people exercise their rights and where their voice is heard.
A just society recognizes that education is more than a privilege, it is a right. All students should have the right to learn and grow to their potential. As future leaders in their families, communities and their nation, youth must feel a sense of corporate social responsibility where they become active participants in strengthening the fabric of their society. Canada is a founding member of the Commonwealth to which Kenya belongs. It has a strong tradition of humanitarian aid and outreach to developing nations through assistance in education, economic and social development and governance.
Canada has embraced people from around the world through an open immigration policy. Canada’s traditions are based on its historical ties with England and France. Today Canada is described as a vertical mosaic where other cultures and traditions are accepted and celebrated. A strong publicly funded education system acknowledges this diversity and seeks to provide learning opportunities for all. Among the many positive outcomes is a growing trend for Canadian youth to become involved as volunteers in their nation and beyond to help make the world a better place to live.
University/College: University of Arkansas System
Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter
Date: 4 October 2016
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