“But for me, the way I have seen and what I have learned; it is not a must to go to school. It is not a must to be clever to get to an airplane. Because most people here, they work hard and studied so they can get to the airplane. But for me, that is not, what you have to do is your talent, your skill that you have. That is the skill that will bring you to go abroad. So, that even, that is how you help people in school. I used to tell boys and girls, you know what, do what you can, if you have a talent, go and do it! Don’t depend only on books. (…) If you coming number one, that is your talent. So, if you are doing rugby, if you are good at rugby, do that for the best, do that. If you are doing karate, do that, if you are a runner, a good runner, keep that in your mind and be strong on that and work hard on that. That’s your talent. It will take you overseas. And you’ll be rich in that if you want.” – Sammy, acrobat.
“Hi Vero, we are back in China! I am happy, I am going to work again. Hope you are doing well too”. I just received this text from one of the acrobats. It has become normal for me to receive texts from them from all over the world. Just the other day, another acrobat texted me from Spain. I remember the first time I heard that they perform all over the world. I was doing an interview with one of the acrobats and he casually told me about his trip to Turkey, that he got injured there, but that he was lucky because since he was on contract he had an insurance. I was ignorant, so at first, I thought he was joking with me. Eventually, I started to understand that although these acrobats are extremely humble, they do travel across the world to perform. I had been unaware that the real money was earned abroad.
I have met many people in Kenya from a wide variety of backgrounds. I have rarely heard of a Kenyan who does not have the desire to travel, to discover what is out there. Many people dream of getting on a plane. I sometimes forget how privileged I am. Though, I do remember looking up to the sky as a little girl and seeing planes fly over. Being curious what it would be like to fly, I did not even mind where I would be going, I just wanted to sit in a plane and see the clouds beneath me. It is like an upside-down world. Suddenly the clouds have reversed and you get to see the world from a different perspective.
Seeing the world from a different perspective and experiencing a wide variety of cultures… Something the acrobats get to experience in spite of their lack of higher education. Most of the acrobats have only finished primary education, since there was not enough money to afford going to secondary school. In education systems around the world, primary education will not prepare one for the labour market. Specifically, the Kenyan system is mainly theory based and focusses a lot on exam preparation through drilling and cramming, sometimes forgetting about transferable skills (Source, chapter 8). I believe that all education systems around the world have shortcomings. Education should focus on creating well-rounded people who are not scared to think critically, can make decisions, can stand up for what they believe and are aware of their qualities, using these to enter the labour market. As labour markets differ all over the world, focus areas in the education curriculum should be applicable in the local context. Moreover, education is all about raising individuals who have different qualities. Thus, it should not be hierarchical and leave out certain aspects such as the arts, just because they are perceived as being less useful.
In a country where youth unemployment reaches percentages of over 22% (The statistics portal, 2017), it should be a priority to invest in solutions to this problem. This shows that even with completed education, youth still struggle to find a job. Moreover, Kenya has a huge informal economy, which has also been recognized by its government. The government even promotes this sector as an opportunity for employment creation (Source). So, why is the educational system so theory focused? I am by no means trying to say that everyone should be an acrobat. I just think that all over the world there should be a stronger emphasis on sports and the arts. Education should also focus on discovering what you are good at and how that can be useful in the future. Many of the acrobats went through physical education classes during primary school. This is how most of them have discovered their talent.
Education is essential, it is the groundwork of the future. Though, it needs to adapt to its context; offer alternatives, if having knowledge of theory is not enough to get a job. Every single person has a talent. Not everyone is aware of their talent, but this is because they have not been encouraged enough to discover it. Talent needs to be nurtured. Imagine the loss if Kipchoge Keino had never discovered his talent for running. Imagine being unable to express yourself artistically because you have never been taught how, or even been punished for doing so. Education all over the world should have greater emphasis on creativity, sports and arts. This could not just create new labour opportunities but investing in these talents serves as a great way to develop transferable life skills.
Author: Veronique Sprenger