Saturday, November 26, 2011

TEDxDAR 2011: Richard Mabala

Richard Mabala started by asking for one minute of silence in memory of Imagination which died in our education system several years ago. At which point of course we all clapped, of course. His presentation kicked off with a story about a lady who goes to Einstein and tells him: I want my child to be like you, what should I give him to read? Einstein said fairytales. She replies: what more? And Einstein says again: Fairytales. And so on and so forth. Einstein's point was, how can you imagine a new physics or a new anything if you don't have imagination?

True confession: the first Smartphone I ever got blew my mind because it had brought a lifelong fantasy to life for me. Ever watched Star Trek? Remember how Starship crew could just tap on their badge and their communicator would go on and they could talk to anybody? And how about those portable gadgets they used to carry around that told them everything they needed to know about everything? Got one of those too, mine's an Apple. From Leonardo's drawings to the cramped seating in Economy Class of any airline- imagination and elbow grease. From scrap metal to a home-made wind turbine: creativity and elbow grease. Making the future what we want it to be: imagination and elbow grease...

Which is why I was sad to hear Richard Mabala quote Mwalimu as saying that "Education is the transmission of knowledge and skills from one generation to the next." For a teacher, Mwalimu did have his moments of intellectual conservatism that could be quite disappointing. And yet ideas can linger past their sell-by date and we are stuck with a public education system that is decent on paper but quite atrocious in terms of delivery. My position is that if the government demands by law that parents send their children to school, it should at least start with this premise: first do no harm.

The language issue: children should be taught in the language that they understand- this is an argument that professional educators have been making forever. English as a language of instruction in schools is just about killing our education system right dead. However, I want to throw a spanner in the works here and I aim this at the educators: how come we perform so poorly in our Standard VII exams? English is only introduced at Secondary School, which the majority of Tanzanians don't get to complete anyways. Lets dig deep into this education thing.

'Creativity is subversive' says Richard Mabala. It can be. There is something frighteningly God-like about the power of human imagination. I recently came across an article about Craig Venter, a man whose work has the potential to change how we think about life. The two most powerful sentence in the English language starts with two words: "What if..." Use it wisely, but use it, please.

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