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Philanthropy and faith groups may be the answer for education

Monday July 31 2017

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Each year, several private-sector organisations open their wallets to unleash billions of shillings through their Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) initiatives for social good.

There is no prescribed way of utilising these enormous resources, and different organisations and countries have different programmes.

You can feel the impact of some CSR programmes of some organisations, while others struggle to show tangible benefits of their programs.

The M-Pesa Foundation’s idea of building a state-of-the art school in Thika heralds a new approach to CSR activities in Kenya, one that will definitely have a great impact. 

This impact is already evident, not just in the faces of the young learners in the school but in the entire learning ecosystem in the country. 

The foundation made significant contributions to existing educational institutions in the past but building the M-Pesa Academy is in keeping with its continuing commitment to transforming lives in Kenya and could be the start of changing the country’s learning paradigm. 

A rendering of the M-Pesa Academy. PHOTO |
A rendering of the M-Pesa Academy. PHOTO | M-PESA FOUNDATION

When Education Education Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang'i and his Information and Communications counterpart Joe Mucheru visited the academy recently they were quick to ask the school to open its doors to other school heads so they can learn from their achievements.

The ministers’ tour was largely conducted by the young learners themselves, who confidently explained the many activities they are involved in.

This co-educational and residential high school provides world-class Kenyan education with special focus on leadership, entrepreneurship, technology and innovation. 

Students showcase their creativity: PHOTO |
Students showcase their creativity: PHOTO | M-PESA FOUNDATION

Most of the students in this academy are talented and have demonstrated leadership potential but are economically disadvantaged.

Admissions to the academy are evaluated on the basis of academic excellence, financial need, responsible citizenship, critical thinking, problem-solving and leadership and entrepreneurial potential.

Research on the knowledge of the 21st century dictates that existing pedagogical methods need to be replaced with those that can prepare students for future work. 

Studies exemplified in a seminar paper by Kereluik, Mishra, Fahnoe and Terry, What Knowledge Is of Most Worth: Teacher Knowledge for 21st Century Learning, show there are key knowledge areas of interest that new pedagogy must embrace.   

These include:

  • Foundational knowledge incorporating digital literacy, core content and cross-disciplinary;
  • Humanistic knowledge covering life or job skills, ethical or emotional awareness, cultural competence, and
  • Meta knowledge, focusing on creativity and innovation, problem-solving, critical thinking and communication and collaboration. 

These knowledge areas form the basis of admission and become part of the teaching methodology at the Academy. 

This is a significant departure from the existing teaching methods in Kenya that have produced many people with education but who cannot solve the problems confronting them or their society.

GRAPHIC | From Kereluik, Mishra, Fahnoe, and
GRAPHIC | From Kereluik, Mishra, Fahnoe, and Terry (2013).

Besides the normal Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education, students cover the following components:

  • Introduction to rigorous leadership development and entrepreneurship learning;

  • Teaching and practicing how to use technology efficiently and effectively to bridge educational gaps and allow for accelerated educational growth;

  • Building the culture of The Academy through value-based education;

  • Basic introduction to higher-level Maths, English, Science, Languages and active reading.

Collaborative learning. PHOTO |  M-PESA
Collaborative learning. PHOTO | M-PESA FOUNDATION

Unlike other elite public schools, M-Pesa Academy has unparalleled infrastructure with all the facilities in place. It is the kind of school you wish for every child in this country but which cannot be realised due to poor management and lack of commitment.

Education has been politicised. Teachers, led by their unions, are in politics as excellence in learning declines. Elite schools that were largely built by the colonial government had infrastructure that in most cases was comparable to what we desire now.

The Harambee model of development that was supposed to mobilise resources to build better schooling infrastructure is all but dead, having been abused. Learning facilities no longer function well.     

There is a dire need for a paradigm shift. We need to focus more on developing a well-rounded student and less drilling for passing examinations. This will not happen in the existing framework.


Perhaps we need less government in education. This is not too far-fetched, considering that Ghana, as part of the new government's efforts to reform education, recently decided to hand over mission schools back to their owners. 

There is no doubt that faith-based schools have done a better job in developing well-rounded students. It is time to consider moving some public schools that were originally started by missionaries back to their respective faiths.

The Speaker of Ghana's parliament, Aaron Michael Oquaye, made this remark:

“Governments like to stretch their hands too far. They want to interfere with everything. If some people have got their school and they are doing well, leave them – and I believe that it is time Boards of Governors, old boys and girls were given more latitude to manage their schools – and the lesser the interference, the better.”

In my view, we have sufficient evidence. Government must think creatively and consider incentivising faith-based organisations and the private sector to utilise CSR to put up infrastructure and equip schools. 

Incentives also can be extended to private sector investment to build well-equipped schools. 

The role of government in this case is to ensure highest-level standards and provision of scholarships for the poor to attend well-equipped schools. 

If we had at least one fully equipped school in each county, we would have created significant capacity to impact the country’s leadership in the days to come. 

Already, faith-based organisations have invested heavily in education and although they are best in most cases, there are no standards as to what a 21st century should embrace. This is where the government should intervene.

It is far easier for the private sector to propel the current industrial-era schooling and take the country to the next level of future learning that largely demand knowledge in ICTs. 

M-Pesa Academy has already succeeded in bringing out talent and equipping students with confidence, life skills and the ability to know, to act and embrace values. 

Students work at the school farm: Picture:
Students work at the school farm: Picture: M-PESA FOUNDATION

This is what the role of education should be. The Academy is inspiring debate on the future of learning that should be embraced by all schools. We clearly need radical reforms in our education sector.

The writer is an associate professor at University of Nairobi’s School of Business. Twitter: @bantigito