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Education as it should be – passion-based.

Real Life Education ala William Kamkwamba

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William Kamkwamba is becoming famous through his TED talk.

. . . and from his book The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind

I had the opportunity to hear a live interview with William Kamkwamba.  He conveyed many guidelines for obtaining a real life education.

Interview – Part 1

The Importance of Education

Education Provides More Choices

William noted that in Malawi students have to pay for school. He was forced to drop out of school due to family financial problems.  He went to the library so that he could continue his studies and in his words did so, so that “I wouldn’t be behind the rest of the students.”  This lead him to studying engineering books – realizing during his early teens that he had an interest in and a propensity for inventing . . .  in this case, windmills.  Now in his early twenties, he believes that education is not about getting a job but it does give one more choices.

How this translates into the classroom is, first and foremost, by creating a culture of the specialness of education.  Education in countries such as the US is taken for granted by most.  Learning should be fun and engaging, and viewed as a special privilege.  Hearing kids say that they hate school breaks my heart . . . and truthfully, I don’t blame them given how the system is structured today.  One of my goals as an educator is to create a learning environment where kids shiver with excitement thinking about what they are going to learn that day, stay in the flow most of their learning time, whine when it is time to leave because they want to stay and learn more, and continue learning on their own time.  In other words, the process of learning needs to be viewed as important as or more important than the product of learning.

Second, William is living proof of Passion-Based Learning.  See my post PBL is Passion-Based Learning: Show Me Your Passion for more about this.

Interview – Part 2

Solving Our Own Problems

When you are in trouble, you don’t wait for others to pull you out of trouble.  You start things yourself, and then the other people come and help you.  People who are facing the problems need to come up with ideas for solving the problems.  Others don’t know exactly the way yourself know it.  Waiting for government or some other organization won’t solve your problem.  We need to be thinking of our own ways to solve our problems.

In the learning environment, this translates into allowing and facilitating critical thinking and problem solving.  Standards-based learning, backwards design, best practices lead to scripted programs and product-based learning not critical and heuristic problem solving.  Tinkering (see Tinkering School comic) and learning from failure do not become an option in these learning environments.

It also relates to our school systems in that problems should be addressed locally within those systems.  Administrators and educators need to stop the blame game – waiting for the right curriculum, the right amount of money, the right superintendent to solve the problems within their schools.

Educating Others About the Magic

When William’s neighbors in his village believed that the electricity that the windmill created was magic, he educated them in a way they could understand the science behind it.  Due to social networking (e.g., blogs, Twitter, and Facebook), I know a lot of educators are doing it right – creating learning environments and projects that are the real magic for their learners.  I wonder – almost daily – why aren’t the policy makers being educated about “good” education?  They believe, falsely, that the magic of learning can be structured with standards and measured by numbers.

Learning Entails Flexibility

I learned to be flexible in the things I wanted to do.  I changed the design to fit in with materials I have.

Learning and Innovation is often stated as a 21st century skill.  Flexibility in learning means great learning is not dependent on big bucks initiatives – often used as an excuse for substandard education.  William built a functional windmill out of materials from a junk yard.  I built a full technology program from eight old computers and internet access (see Creative Web Tools For and By Kids, and Discovery Kids). I really am not comparing myself to William.  I want to emphasize that when educators and their learners create a community driven by flexible innovation; rocket ships are built from the wood pile, books are written and illustrated in the sand, and global collaboration occurs on cell phones.

Solving Problems in Our Own Communities

William is beginning his college education at Dartmouth College this fall.  He then plans on going back to Malawi when his studies are complete to help build his community.  He also began a nonprofit to rebuild his primary school, Wimbe School.

I find the walls and fences – literally and figuratively – between schools and their communities to be baffling.  Collaborations between schools and their local nonprofits (e.g., shelters, food pantries, environmental centers) create amazing learning opportunities and set a climate, an expectation, an affiliation for local and global stewardship.

Achieving Our Goals

William ended his interview with the following:

In life we face so many challenges in order to achieve our goals.  Don’t let the challenges stop from you from doing what you want to be doing. Everything in life is possible.   If you work hard and trust yourself, you will achieve so many things.  Don’t give up, no matter how tough it might look like.  You will achieve something.

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Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

August 29, 2010 at 4:25 pm

One Response

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  1. [...] Our Junior High students area reading-studying William Kamkwamba’s Boy Who Harnessed the Wind.  He pondered how a windmill could change his village in Malawi.  More about him can be found at Real Life Education ala William Kamkwamba.” [...]


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