Critical Lessons & Educational Change

Letter to My Child

Leonard (Lenny) Kamau

May 2012


My name is Leonard/Lenny Kamau from Kenya. I am a fourth year PhD student in Mathematics Education program. My area of research is on how teachers use information and communication technology (ICT) in mathematics teaching at the secondary schools in developing countries.

This letter is addressed to my son, Kamau. He is 8 years old and in grade 3. In this letter I will explain to him my experiences throughout my education. First, I will describe a case of two children that I schooled with–one from a poor family and the other from a wealthy family. Secondly, I will explain to him how corruption and class warfare played in the lives of the two children. Finally, I will sum up this letter with a discussion on how education can be used to break these barriers.

The Letter

This letter is meant for you Kamau, my son. As you know, you are only 8 years old and very active in school. The message in this letter is to let you know how you can use education to improve your life and change your society. Do you know why it is important to get educated? And what it means to get an education? By the time you finish reading this letter, you will be in a position to answer these questions.

Kamau, first and foremost, before I say what I have to say, I would like to tell you how my first days in schools were like, and then I will tell you some interesting stories about lives of two families from our village. I started my formal education when I was five years old. On my first day of school, I cried a lot because your grandma did not want to stay with me at school. This day was significant because it marked my first step in getting education. One thing I am happy and proud of is that, your grandparents made sure I never slept without food or missed school because of lack of school fees.

However, this was not the case for most of the children in our village. Along the journey of my early education, I compared myself with other children from the neighborhood. These children did not have decent housing like I did, and their parents worked at our farm for a wage. One such family was a family headed by a single mother with three children.  Her name was Wa-Gitahi, who died a few years ago. She was the poorest of all the people from the village. This was seen from her house that was so poorly built that it was falling and looked dilapidated. One thing was clear about her children; they were the smartest in our school and across the ridges. When one of her sons, Mugi, graduated from the primary school, I remember very well—because everyone in the village talked about it—that Wa-Gitahi could not raise the school fees to enroll him to a secondary school. In light of this, the government offered him a scholarship to study at a local high school through what was popularly known as the bursary fund. However, the local government leaders denied him the opportunity to get education by diverting the bursary funds to benefit a child from a wealthy and a well to do family. Consequently, Mugi never made it to secondary school and to date, just like her late mother, Mugi works as a casual laborer in the village farms to earn a wage to support his family. He is still a brilliant man whose ideas even many educated people cannot compare. Life is unfair, my son.

Another story that has significance in this letter is how Oliver the son of a local female teacher succeeded in life. The husband was a local councilor, of mixed race. This family by any standards was well up and the privileges of life were unlimited for them. Oliver was lucky because his father dropped and picked him to and from school using the family car. The few times Oliver walked to school, unlike many other children, he wore shoes, warm clothing, and had access to all other good things in life. However, in spite of all the benefits that the good life had to offer, Oliver was among the lowest ranked child academically in our school. Although I cannot trace his life since we left school, I hear that Oliver immigrated and settled in a foreign country.

Now let us look at my case. My history is not any different from that of Mugi’s life. The only difference is that I was very lucky in my early life. Unlike Mugi who was denied his right to get education, I completed my high school and university education without a hitch and I was lucky enough to get a scholarship to study in the United States. I don’t want to write too much about my life in this letter, otherwise I would be bragging about my achievements. However, my life story and achievements in education, is a story of its own kind that can only be written in a book. My son, someday you will understand these issues.

I want to compare and contrast my life and Mugi’s life on one hand, and Oliver’s life and Mugi’s life on the other. Mugi was denied his education because of corruption. Corruption may be a new concept to you. Corruption is like cancer, it is a deadly disease. As we speak today, corruption is the genesis of the unequal society in Kenya; a society of two ‘ethnic tribes’ –the rich and the poor. Mugi’s case is a representation of a bigger problem in Kenya where corruption scandals one after the other has denied the Kenyan children opportunities to get education. This my son has led to the decline in economic growth, which has impacted negatively on the individual well-being of the Kenyan people. Mugi, would be a great man today if his chance in life to get an education was not taken away through corruption and favourism. Looking at my own case my son, I was lucky because my scholarship to study abroad did not come through or from the Kenyan government. If that was the case, I would not be here in the United States studying. I would probably be somewhere else wasting my life. But my son, I was lucky because if the American public service was as corrupt as the Kenyan public service, I could not have got the chance to study here in the US. Probably the scholarship that I have today would have been given to an American citizen instead.

Oliver’s case represents the issue of class warfare and social mobility. This boy was of mixed race –white and black, where the grandparents came from a wealthy family living somewhere in Europe or Australia. This opened the opportunity for him to get education, despite being the lowest ranked academically in school. On the other hand, Wa-Gitahi’s family did not come from a wealthy background and therefore, Mugi did not have a family member who was wealthy to educate him. The implication of this situation is that Mugi’s children might not be lucky either to succeed in life just like their father.

In a nutshell, this letter my son, is a revelation the kind of society we live in. Beyond the classroom walls that you are confined in, there are other powerful forces that determine what you become in life. From this perspective and looking at the humbling story of Mugi, you have an opportunity in life to change your society. The social injustice barriers like corruption and other social evils that create division between the rich and the poor in the society can be brought down by you and many other boys and girls in school. I know you are wondering what I am talking about, but my son, let me remind you that it is only education that can seal this divide. As you work hard in school, do not despise the slightest opportunity you have to get education because just like your dad and many others, an opportunity will come your way that will make a difference in your life and change the lives of your people.

Love you,