It was in a Laico Regency hotel room, at a boda boda press conference that my understanding of the meaning of education was fundamentally altered. For a very long time, I held my undergraduate degree with so much esteem. I belonged to a very exclusive club of people who were given the power to read by one of the most prestigious (according to me) universities in this country.

In fact, when I graduated from Daystar, I was so proud of myself that I had conquered a land that was meant for the rich people of this country.

First of all, like many Kenyans, our perception of intelligence is really warped. We attach so much meaning to formal education (nothing is wrong with it) and white collar jobs. The jua kali guys look like outcasts with their bruised hands, sometimes sweaty faces and their aprons on. We sometimes don’t pay much attention to them beyond what we think they know.

Well, as I believe that God is teaching me lessons through the bizarre moment, I was awed when I started listening to these riders. With their broken English, they have come together to form an association.

There are approximately 1.2M of them spread across the country each making about 3k per day. Now, the association which has noticed the gap have decided to fill it up. So far, they have launched an app that will ensure that you can order your bike for general transport purposes.

They are about 800k who are members of the association. Assuming that each contributed 100 bob per month, they pocket Sh 80 M per month. What would stop them from doing incredible things with this money? Why wouldn’t they fight in court, loan their members, buy more bikes, diversify their investments and live a luxurious life?

You see, I was raised (I believe many more of us) to believe that education by itself is prestige. Names of great professors and doctors were always mentioned to stir our faith up in the infallible ability of education to change our lives. Our parents and our teachers meant well I believe. But I wish there was more emphasis on innovation rather than the just mere passing of information measured by how well you pass exams.

I was raised in a very humble home. Three meals a day was a luxury and one uniform would be washed every night so that we could go to school with it. We combed grass with dew thoroughly on our way to school and we occasionally pricked by thorns that would get stuck in our legs for days.

I went to a primary school called Ong’eche (monkeys in Luo). Then I went to a day school just a stone throw away from the same primary school I attended. Therefore I vowed that I would give myself a gift by going to an excellent University. All these time, my motivation to go to school I now believe maybe was misplaced. After all, I was the first graduate in our family yet I was the second last born.

Therefore I believed in the ability of education to change my circumstances. Work hard, get a job, earn money… Repeat. But as I listened to a group of riders in a room, wearing their reflective jackets, boots, gloves and the entire boda boda regalia, it began to hit me that maybe what many of us thought was education was instead just information.

Many of us pride ourselves in our degrees or the diplomas we hold. We get excited when we talk about the schools we went to if they were prestigious enough. We wear them like a badge on our sleeves.

But I’m not sure if we really use the power to read that we were given.

We have prided ourselves in reading many books, joining enough book clubs but we barely remember to apply what we have learnt. Because knowledge is sexy. Those who are gifted with an elephant’s memory and can quote authors from medieval times to new school writers are automatically seen as smart.

As a reader, I’m now trying to follow up on the Sunny Bindra’s 52 books challenge but I have to review my motive. We are a collective accumulation of books, where we binge read and can quote authors. But reading without applying the knowledge is like pouring oil on the exterior of the car while hoping that it will run smoothly.

Lessons

However much we work hard, if we don’t learn the art of pulling recourses together to change our situations, salaries and side hustle proceeds may never radically change our lives. The secret lies in coming together to change our circumstance because education should change lives. The knowledge that is not applied is wasted. Information should help us make better decisions.

The challenges this country faces, of negative ethnicity and a culture of mediocrity can be cured if we genuinely educated our hearts. If we paid attention to the lessons folded in the pages of different books and purposed to only pick at least one point from a book then our lives would be radically different.

But because our education system was designed to make workers for the elites, we continue to climb the ladder of education but we don’t invent. While at the same time, we are hiring talent from outside to come and help us deal with our local solutions.

How hard is it to design and implement a system that can deal with garbage? Must we have whites helping us with managing our flora and fauna, what our forefathers managed excellently well without formal education?

How about our roads? Why do we have engineering graduates but the Chinese are building all our major infrastructural projects? Why is it that ‘brilliant’ ideas only seem to come from some parts of the world but we barely want to break the chain?

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Author: Dannish Odongo

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