What you need to know:
"It is my duty as an educator to make the classroom a pleasant place for learning, where students feel free to share their learning experiences.
"I try to implement learning strategies like problem solving skills and lifelong skills because I am preparing my learners for a life beyond school walls," says teacher Dickson Karanja.
Dickson Karanja is a secondary school teacher at Sacred Heart High School in Mombasa County. He is a Bett MEA global winner on innovation in teaching and learning 2020. He describes himself as an ICT champion.
Did you ever want to become a teacher?
No. My parents were teachers and three of my siblings went into the profession. I wanted something different, a career in computer science or to join the Kenya Defence Forces (KDF). However, because of my parents’ influence, I went into teaching. I have been at it for more than a decade. Since 2008, I have been teaching at Sacred Heart high school in Mombasa. Notably, I have remained very passionate about ICT. I love computers and technology and have integrated them into my teaching.
How did you go about that?
When I joined Sacred Heart high school, I found that class participation was dismal. Attending lessons became boring to me as well. I felt that I needed to spice up my lessons in order to arouse more interest among students. Through research, mainly on the internet, I came across teachers who were using technology in class. That was the turning point in my career. My biggest challenge then was lack of internet connectivity in the school. I beat that by adjusting my personal budget and spending Sh1,000 every week to download videos and other learning resources.
I still remember the excitement the students exuded when I first introduced the use of technology in class. Since that day, I have not looked back. I keep on finding new ways and innovations to incorporate in my teaching.
For instance, as a way of embracing the advancement in technology in this era and the fact that most of our students are digital natives, I adopted a blended approach in teaching and learning. I use digital content in class and request learners to download learning material, print them in school and do the assignments offline. This way, they are able to learn both online and offline aspects.
In collaboration with Concordia University in Canada and Aga Khan Academy Mombasa, we use E-Pearl which stands for Electronic Portfolio Encouraging Active and Reflecting Learning. Students work on their own by setting objectives, creating criteria to use in order to achieve the set objectives, creating the content, and sharing among themselves before presenting it in class. They also use PowerPoint. Further, I use learning games for formative assessment.
Last year, when schools closed due to the coronavirus pandemic, I recorded myself teaching using a podcast, X recorder and OBS studio then posted on Google classroom and a messaging app, Microsoft Kaizala. The students could then access the notes and do online quizzes.
The use of technology in class saw you win the Bett MEA Award last year. Tell us about that…
The Bett MEA Awards celebrate and champion EdTech trendsetters and innovators who are revolutionising education across the region. I participated in the Innovation in Teaching and Learning category and was shortlisted for the award on December 10, 2020. I managed to beat the other two selected candidates and took the first position. I was supposed to travel to Dubai for the awards ceremony but due to the pandemic and the restrictions on travel, the event was postponed.
Have you measured the impact? Do your students and their parents view you differently?
I have built close learning relationships with my students. They know that I understand their needs and winning the award was a confirmation that I am on the right track.
To keep myself abreast of the advancement in technology, I am a member of Microsoft Education Centre. Further, I have taken more than 79 courses and exams, making me a Microsoft Certified Educator (MCE) and Microsoft Innovative Educator Expert (MIE expert), Metis fellow, ICT champion and an instructional teacher coach in Mombasa County. Spurred by my interest in technology, I started digital literacy training for students and teachers whereby I train them on basic computer skills. This ensures that the learners are equipped with long life skills which can help them beyond secondary school life.
In 2019, I led learners to participate in the inspiring digital enterprise award (iDEA) programme where 20 students were awarded with a bronze medal.
What is your teaching philosophy?
It is my duty as an educator to make the classroom a pleasant place for learning, where students feel free to share their learning experiences. I try to implement learning strategies like problem solving skills and lifelong skills because I am preparing my learners for a life beyond school walls.
What is the hardest thing about your role as a teacher?
I struggle with the emotional burden of teaching students who are enduring difficulties situations at home such as domestic violence, financial constraints. I also get put off by parents who berate their children over poor grades.
Looking back, if you were not a teacher, what would you be?
I still fancy the lives and work of the military so I would be working in the army.
When you think of your school days, what memory comes to mind?
I remember how we used to study at night while preparing for exams and the long queues we made for food. Watching my students doing the same brings back the good memories.
Today is World Students Day, what message do you have for students reading this?
Procrastination is a thief that steals your time and stalls the progress of your life. Set your goals and work on them. Lastly, do try. And when you fail, try again.