Don’s star shines despite personal tragedies

Prof Rose Ruto, director of the Institute of Open and Distance Learning, Moi University, School of Education. She was elected the Commonwealth Open Schooling Association Chair, Africa Chapter.

Photo credit: Pool

What you need to know:

  • At Moi Girls, the principal, Mrs Hellen Cheramboss, was my inspiration
  •  I later enrolled at Moi University in 1988 for a Bachelor of Education and a Masters’ degree in Educational Psychology in 1992.

Prof Rose Ruto, a lecturer at Moi University, has been elected chair of the African chapter of the Commonwealth Open Schooling Association (COMOSA). Higher Education interviewed her on the role and what aspired to achieve such a feat.

 How does it feel being elected chair?

I feel honoured and privileged to get an opportunity to serve in the African continent. I understand that this is a position of responsibility and a quest to have an impact on society, and so I have these mixed feelings. I am extremely excited because I believe that I will create an impact in open schooling initiatives in Kenya and Africa but also eager about at the expectations, given the vastness of African continent.

What motivated you to contest?

Creating hope and opportunities for everyone through schooling propelled my desire to contest. You see, UNESCO records that we had 258 million out of school youth and children by October 2019. My heart breaks whenever I see children and youth, whose opportunities in life are ruined because they missed to get an education to allow them to thrive. They too should have a chance in life through education.

I also know that a good education supports sustainable individuals, communities, and nations to thrive. World peace depends on each and every person having equitable access resources, foremost being a good education. My desire is to use my education and skills to serve COMOSA, for the sake of those excluded from learning and schooling.

What were some of the challenges you faced in the race and how did you overcome them?

One of the challenges was the vast African continent and getting to reach the voters across the different countries of Africa. Secondly, being in the director of open and distance learning at Moi University, I understand the issues in the area. I was also bold, as some voters later told me, because I went fishing in an ocean, like a fisherman casting his net far and wide. I also leveraged on my networks and contacts in South Africa, where I did my doctoral studies. I also got networks from other parts of Africa, and of course in East Africa and locally. Technology is an enabler, networking, and social media are powerful tools to overcome any distance or resource barrier. That is what I will also leverage on to support my work in COMOSA.

What or who was your inspiration growing up and how has it impacted your education journey?

Tragedies that befell my parents and husband inspired me to greatness.

Looking back, I think my late father had a premonition he was going to die. During school opening dates, he would go to school, pay fees, and return home to nudge us to go to school. Remember these were those days when fee was paid in cash.

So, on this particular opening day, he came back after paying my school fees at St. Joseph’s Girls – Chepterit, where I did my O-levels. The bus stop overlooked our farm, and as I waited for the bus to go to school, he arrived to bid me goodbye. It is one episodic moment in my life, whose events are so clear as if it happened only yesterday.

This was the day my father injected his vision for me, for my future and my life. As he talked to me, he said: ‘Listen, I want you to read until you ‘finish education’. I know you are a very intelligent girl, my girl. Be assured that I will not lack fees.” That was our last conversation, because he passed on in July of that year, and I did my Form Four examinations amid tears and emotional pain.

But I passed, with a Division One. I knew he had meant every word because on occasion, among 18 `children, I would be the only one to receive my Christmas dress in August. How special. My father had injected his vision of my life to me and to my elder brother David, who at only 21 years when my dad passed on, was left to carry the family forth in supporting my mother. Henceforth, even though he was gone, I had no doubt what he wanted for me and my life. I always encourage parents to breathe life to their children, and to articulate their wishes for them.

I joined Moi Girls High School Eldoret in 1986 for ‘A’ levels and other miracles happened. Fr. George Cheboryot, who I had just met shortly before my father died, came in to support me. He supported and inspired my excellence. At Moi Girls, the principal, Mrs Hellen Cheramboss, was my inspiration. I later enrolled at Moi University in 1988 for a Bachelor of Education and a Masters’ degree in Educational Psychology in 1992.

This gave me a solid foundation for my doctoral studies at the University of Pretoria in South Africa in 2006, where I also met two wonderful supervisors, Prof Irma Eloff and Carien Lubbe De Beer.

The other inspiration was the tragedy that befell my husband which made me abandon my PhD studies at Kenyatta University. One year into it (the course), my husband and children were involved in a terrible road accident on August 17th, 2003. My children survived with minor injuries, but my husband slipped into a coma.

He was to be gone for close to three months. When he woke up, he had forgotten how to walk, eat and all the basic self-care that we usually take for granted. He was admitted at Nairobi Hospital, and I literally lived in hospital, and later took some leave to rehabilitate him. But as someone says, you never know how strong you are, until being strong is the only choice you have.

It was like starting life all over for the husband including feeding on a baby bottle? Imagine lifting an adult’s legs, and literally reminding them how legs move? This is what I did for my husband. Family, friends, and of course Moi University helped me carry the burden, and I am eternally grateful.

Describe to us your organisation and its workings?

COMOSA which stands for Commonwealth of Learning Open Schooling Association (COMOSA), is an affiliate of the Commonwealth of Learning (COL). COMOSA consists of any individual or organisation which subscribes to open schooling initiatives.

Open Schooling Initiatives (OIS) is a framework used to ensure that those who would not otherwise fit into the ‘formal schools’ can still get a chance to learn, currently possible through technology enabled learning. COMOSA is organised into Chapters, which are headed by elected by Chairs.

Currently there are Four Chapters; Africa, Asia, Pacific and Caribbean/Canada. I head the Africa Chapter. Comosaconnect is the communication arm of COMOSA and COL coordinates it.

Talking to you one gets the impression that you are passionate about availing education in ways other than the conventional ones. Kindly elaborate

UNESCO Information Paper No. 61 October 2019 put the number of out-of-school children and youth in the world at 258 million. Overall, the largest youth population is in Africa. This is both an opportunity and a challenge. The government has initiatives for technology enhanced learning like connecting schools to the Internet, use of radio or TV lessons. These are variants of open and distant learning.

The same initiatives should be extended to villages, with innovations that work with solar, and with little internet. We are living during the fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR), and already the government has a draft ‘Digital Economy Blueprint’. Every other African country needs to prioritise digital skills for children and youth, as most of the world youth live in Africa. It would be sad to leave children, and youth behind, as these are the drivers of the 4IR.

Yes, currently, there are many organisations that are now offering courses for free. For example, Coursera, an online education provider is running courses for free. Anybody can enrol for those courses and get a qualification. Technology enhanced learning promises to make education accessible, in ways we have never experienced before.

During my term, I plan to lobby governments to adopt technology, especially to make learning accessible to learners excluded from formal school systems.

What is the one new idea that you are bringing on board?

A problem-based approach to service and lobbying beyond the necessary slogan of getting everyone to learn. I want to anchor my vision on community service, engagement, and sustainable and peaceful communities. I want to lobby national and county governments and individuals to make investments in technology to support communities.

What are your future plans?

I will continue to serve my community, students and invest in personal development. I plan to start a charity to reach out to out-of-school children.

There have been concerns that we have concentrated so much on addressing the plight of girls at the expense of boys, how would you work to achieve a balance?

Every stakeholder should understand that both boys and girls are children. In fact, there is need to develop boys to men, so that we have stronger families and a stronger nation.

Marriages are breaking because there is role confusion, where empowered-women are not prepared to play within the space of empowerment, while men do not know how to handle empowered women. A lot of education, and proper socialisation is important to create the balance.