Learning, unlearning and relearning to nurture future African leadership
by Simon Mitambo
The Kithino Learning Centre (KLC) is a school like no other. It is neither a conventional education centre nor an academy for schooling pupils. It is an earth-centred learning institution with many distinctions. Founded in 2016, through a community under my mentorship, pupils who attend KLC come to learn, unlearn and re-learn. Though the school is quite independent, its evolution was inspired by my journey with the ABN and The Gaia Foundation. The school community is further guided by the philosophy of the great American writer and futurist, Alvin Toffler. He once said: “the illiterates of 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write; but those who cannot learn, unlearn and re-learn”.
The KLC’s approach to learning is holistic in nature and practice. It embraces different faculties of knowing and knowledge generation. Besides the usual five senses of sight, touch, smell, taste and hearing, there are other faculties of knowing that make learning exciting and fun. These additional faculties include sensing, intuition and connecting with the natural world. The school has elaborate outdoor learning programs for learning from the natural world. There is the school botanical/herbal garden that produces natural foods that pupils enjoy for lunch and dinner. Nature experiential learning through camping in nature is another such program. The school treats the natural world as its primary text to read on a daily basis. It provides a conducive environment for learning and knowledge generation across knowledge systems. The community’s elders come to the school to teach children storytelling, to train them to dance cultural songs and dances, some of which are at the risk of extinction because of cultural erosion.
The school is located in the rural area of Tharaka where bio-cultural diversity is very rich. In this community, life is celebrated through songs and dances. These songs and dances carry deep traditional knowledge and the world view of the Tharaka indigenous community.
Pupils at KLC spend time in nature at the nearby forest, at the river Kithino and in the school herbal garden. Here they learn about their relationship with the natural world as well as about aromatic and medicinal plants, under supervision of knowledgeable elders. Sometimes they find and collect different wild seeds for different aromatic and medicinal plants to propagate in their garden. Their time in nature cultivates curiosity to know and to nurture their creativity and innovation. Modern research has shown that when children interact with the natural world, they become more creative and innovative. At the same time, the herbal garden produces highly nutritious foods that maintain the good health of the learners. All these foods are grown naturally without chemicals. The school administration believes that “people become what they eat”. The school cherishes physical and mental health of the teachers and learners. A healthy school community contributes to a healthy Kenyan nation.
It is not only that the school goes out of the way to create good conditions for knowledge to emerge. Barely two years after its establishment, the school posted one of the best results in the national examination, the Kenya Certificate of Primary Education (KCPE). Out of the 500 schools in Tharaka Nithi County, KLC took position 20. This demonstrates the potential of KLC’s innovative approaches and methodologies used in teaching and learning. The KLC is thus a centre for quality education and transformative African leadership. The new teaching approaches at KLC are bringing hope and joy for teachers and learners alike, in an education system that has been characterized by rigid classroom based teaching methodologies. As its school motto indicates – Dare to Know – the school is committed to taking daring steps in opening and charting a path for innovative ways of animating, stimulating and awakening learning and knowledge acquisition in Kenya.
KLC calls upon African governments and policy makers to support their and other emerging initiatives by private and public schools that help to revolutionalise learning in Africa and make it meaningful to challenging and dynamic contexts. Its vision for holistic education emphasises values and wisdom for life.