Two Kenyan teachers win global award beating other giants 

Radhika Lee

Director Nairobi International School, Radhika Lee, who has won the Women in EdTech award at the Bett MEA Awards 2020.

Photo credit: Jeff Angote | Nairobi Media Group

What you need to know:

  • The awards recognises educators who have created innovative approaches to driving excellence.
  • Bett MEA Women in EdTech Award is presented to the outstanding female individual that does trailblazing work.

Two Kenyan teachers have been named as the winners in the Bett MEA Awards 2020.

A Mombasa teacher, Dickson Karanja emerged top in the innovation in teaching and learning category while Radhika Lee from Nairobi International school won the Women in EdTech award beating Danielle Platten from UK and Linda Parsons from Deira International School UAE.

Bett MEA Innovation in Teaching and Learning Award is for educators who have created innovative approaches to driving excellence through innovation in education within the classroom. 

The Bett MEA Women in EdTech Award is presented to the outstanding female individual that does trailblazing work in the field of Education Technology to enhance learning outcomes for students and staff.

Mr Karanja from Sacred Heart High School battled the award with Global Indian International School, Abu Dhabi and Shirin Farzana from Winchester school in UAE.

At the school, the teachers broke into prayers, songs and dance praising God for the win.

The school’s deputy principal, Ms Catherine Matuku led the teachers in congratulating the humble teacher for the win and flying the institution’s flag high.

“I am so happy; I cannot hide it I have been dancing ever since we got the news. We are currently doing exams but we will definitely plan a proper celebration for today we were thanking God and Mr Karanja for the win. We have to do something for the teacher, he has made us proud. He is passionate about ICT and he does it so diligently," said Ms Matuku.

"This win means teachers from public schools can go a long way in achieving success. Mr Karanja can do anything for ICT, during holidays he goes out of his way to ensure his students undertake ICT lessons,” she added.

An emotional Mr Karanja was lost for words for an hour before granting us an interview.

“First and foremost I want to thank God because it is all about Him. It has been a long journey and I cannot hide it, I am so excited. It is humbling moment in my career and little did I know God will take me this far,” he said.

Mr Karanja said he never expected the win because he was competing against giant international schools globally. 

Dickson Karanja, a teacher at Sacred Heart High School in Mombasa who has emerged winner of the innovation in teaching and learning category of the 2020 Bett MEA Awards, a global award for Innovation in Teaching and Learning.

Photo credit: Kevin Odit I Nation Media Group

“Surely no man is limited. My family is so excited, they are sending me congratulatory messages, they have been praying day and night. I cannot wait to break the news to my son, Elvis Karanja 13, who has also been helping me with ICT lessons," he said.

"I am grateful to my parents, they saw something good in me and pushed me even when I refused to do teaching, they begged me to do it for their save. I have done it for them by honouring their counsel,” he added.  

Bett MEA event director, Victoria James congratulated Mr Karanja for his achievement and revolutionising education sector.

Awards ceremony

He will get a trophy and certificate among other goodies when he travels to Dubai in 2021 for the awards ceremony.

“The awards were set to be held year but were hampered by the coronavirus pandemic. I will travel next year to Dubai for the ceremony,” he said, adding that he has never participated in the local teacher awards.

In 1994, Mr Karanja joined Egerton University after he was begged and persuaded by his parents. His parents were overjoyed being their first child to go to the university.

Mr Karanja wanted to join military or do any course in computer but his B- (minus) grade got him a Bachelor of Education Arts majoring Geography and Economics course at the university.

Coming from a family of teachers including his parents and three elder siblings, Mr Karanja wanted something different.

“I tried changing my course but it was impossible. My parents insisted that I should do the course I was selected for, they were so happy but I was very sad,” said Mr Karanja during an interview with Nation.

He graduated in 1998 and started teaching at Aberdare technical girl’s secondary school in Nyandarua, he later went to Skylink school in Nyahururu, Busara forest view academy then Mustard Seed schools in Nakuru.

He got his first posting in 2006 to St Theresa girl’s secondary school in Kilifi where he taught Geography and Business Studies.

In 2008 he was transferred to Sacred Heart High school in Mombasa where he is teaching geography and Business studies. He introduced ICT lessons to motivate his students. 

“When I came here, I was discouraged and worried because of the poor performance. I had to improvise and spice up my teaching to ensure my students participate in class and learn. I went to YouTube and looked innovating ways to teach and motivate students but I tumbled on the use of technology,” he said.

In 2015, he bought a laptop to improvise his teaching through the unused school projectors. He started making power point slides and showing them video on different topics such as earthquakes and floods.

Dickson Karanja

Dickson Karanja with his students at Sacred Heart High School in Mombasa. Karanja has won the innovation in teaching and learning category of the 2020 Bett MEA Awards, a global award for Innovation in Teaching and Learning.

Photo credit: Kevin Odit I Nation Media Group

Mr Karanja used Sh1000 per week to buy broadband internet to download videos to teach his students.

“It was expensive. But in 2016, I was introduced to Microsoft education centre where I got resources on online courses for 21st century teaching and learning courses. I did my first exam in Microsoft and became a certified educator,” he added. By then the school had also sponsored three other teachers. 

He started applying the skills in his teaching including collaboration, self-regulation, knowledge creation, innovation, digital literacy and communication. 

With the uptake of ICT learning, the school later bought 10 computers and another organisation gave them 15 laptops. Mr Karanja started digital literacy club where he trained students in digital literacy during lunch time and in the evening.

But during mid-term breaks, he spared two days to teach his students.

When schools closed he enticed his students with lunch to attend the ICT lessons.

“I used Sh2000 for the two days to buy them lunch to keep them in school upto 4pm. They were 55 students; they later started manipulating ICT gadgets to create lessons on their own using power point and present them in class,” he said.

But Mr Karanja has never attended any course in ICT. He taught himself using YouTube and Microsoft educator centre where he did 79 online courses in ICT.

Mr Karanja urged the government to provide schools with more resources like computers saying most students share the gadgets.

He thanked his school principal Mr Robert Kamau for providing him with ICT resources whenever he needed.

“Most importantly my students who have been cooperative and they have made me reach where I am. Teachers, this generation is digital natives we can only teach them using the language they can understand and that is digital language. Let’s give our students a chance to use digital gadgets at school. For parents, allow students to do research at home using gadgets,” he advised his colleagues and parents.

In March when the coronavirus pandemic hit the country forcing the government to shut down all education institutions, he started improvising how he would continue teaching.

Online classes

Mr Karanja started online classes with his students teaching them Geography and Business Studies during lockdown in Mombasa.

He used Google classroom, Zoom, Webinar and Podcasting to teach and revise with his students.

Mr Karanja could give them notes and assignments using the technologies.

“But most students lacked bundles for zoom so I opted for podcast and post in Microsoft Kaizala so that they could listen to my voice and videos at their own time. But those who were able to afford bundles I used to record myself on video using XRecorder and OBS studio and post at Kaizala. After viewing I could send online quiz where they could answer the questions,” he elaborated.

By this time, his colleague teachers were struggling with online classes. He saw the challenge and decided to help them.

“Many teachers were not aware on online teaching so I opened a Facebook page named #OneTeacherOneLesson where over 350 teachers subscribed worldwide. I was posting online teaching materials and other innovating ways of teaching students remotely. Over 30 teachers were from outside Africa,” said Mr Karanja who used the pandemic to attend international webinars.

Currently he is helping his students develop two apps that will help to fight cancer and keep Mombasa County clean. 

His role model and mentor is Dr Maina WaGíokò, an educator at the Aga Khan Academy in Mombasa, who was shortlisted among the top 50 for the highly-prestigious ‘Global Teacher Prize 2019’ making congratulated him for the win. Dr Maina.

Mr Karanja plans to register a digital life Africa to teach the youth on digital literacy courses.

“I have seen many students leaving school with poor grades and parents cannot take them to college. They always come back asking what they can do with their lives. Apart from grades students must get skills to help them in their lives," said Mr Karanja. 

I want to start digital centres in slums where I will be training students free of charge on digital literacy courses instead of idling at home, engaging in crime and drugs. They can kick-start their live,” he added.

His form three student Najat Mote was among those who congratulated him for the fete.  

“He deserves it. Mr Karanja trained us on how to use computer and now we can research create content on our own and present it in class. He understands us well, he is our mentor and role model,” said the student.

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