‘Africans, Like Anyone Else, Simply Want Access To The Best Education’

Kennedy Baboloki Kwati is a curious generalist passionate about bridging big ideas with action. Born in Botswana and completing his undergraduate degree there, Kwati understood how education took him from his village into the spaces he now sits in. He previously served as Chief of Staff at the African Leadership University, an edtech social enterprise empowering future African leaders. Today, he is a MBA candidate at Asia School of Business, in Kuala Lumpur. Africa.com spoke to him on his educational journey and what doors this overlooked sector plays in the continent’s sustainability.

What led you into the education space?

Life wasn’t easy.  We didn’t have much, but what I did have was this burning desire to make something of myself and improve my situation. For a kid like me from that kind of background, education was the only real shot at changing my circumstances. It was the pathway to opportunities that could lift me and my family out of the struggles we faced daily. School was everything – it gave me hope for a better future.

So it’s no surprise that once I grew up and experienced a bit of the world, I felt this deep calling to give back and help create those same opportunities for other kids just trying to get a foothold in life. Whether it’s through education initiatives or other programs, I’m driven to level the playing field for those without access to the basics that can set them on an upward trajectory.

I’ve been there, living that reality of having the odds stacked against me. And I’ll never forget where I came from and how education was my way out. That’s why this work means so much to me on a personal level – it’s about breaking cycles and creating pathways for others in other dusty streets across Africa and the world to dream bigger.

What lessons do you have from your time at African Leadership University (ALU)

Oh man, my time at ALU was one wild ride – challenging as hell at times, but also incredibly rewarding. Let me lay out a few key lessons that really stuck with me.

First up, putting together a top-tier university from the ground up is no joke. Providing a truly world-class education ain’t cheap, and we shouldn’t have to compromise on quality just because it’s in Africa. Our graduates deserve to be globally competitive, period. But pulling that off takes serious hustle. We’re talking long hours, high stakes, making it work with limited resources sometimes. It was a grind, but also energizing to be part of building something so impactful.

That leads me to lesson two – having a crystal clear, inspiring vision is game-changing. When your “why” is powerful enough, it becomes this driving force that aligns and mobilizes everyone. We could and did debate strategies and hammer out details, but that big picture vision kept us focused and united.

Finally, COVID was one hell of a stress test that really proved what ALU was made of. When lockdowns hit in 2020, we had to transition the entire university online basically overnight. I vividly remember the adrenaline-fueled night working around the clock to get our digital infrastructure up and running. By 9 am the next morning after lockdown was announced in Rwanda, our classes were live-streaming without skipping a beat. Seeing that coordinated execution in crisis mode was impressive as hell. But it was also a vulnerable, anxiety-ridden time trying to be that reassuring voice for students while the world was going haywire.

So my experiences from ALU showed me what a small team of deeply committed, resourceful and somewhat well-resourced people can achieve against the odds. More than that, it gave me supreme confidence that we could tackle any challenge thrown our way with creativity and resilience. We took our lumps, but emerged stronger and bolder together.

Why Asia?

You know, some people say parts of Africa are where Asia was a couple decades ago in terms of economic development and opportunity. Could be true, could be off base – I don’t really know for sure. But what I do know is that there’s a ton we can learn from this part of the world that’s been rapidly transforming.

The business world has its eyes on South East Asia as an emerging powerhouse, so I figured, why not go straight to the source and see what all the fuss is about? Also, I really wanted to gain some exposure to this part of world, maybe I can bring some valuable lessons into my future work.

Funny story actually – I first heard about the Asia School of Business MBA program in Malaysia from an American friend I met while living in Rwanda. Talk about an unlikely connection! But when I looked into the school’s background, focusing on experiential learning, it just clicked. Their whole learning philosophy resonated with me after my time at ALU. I was drawn to being part of a young, pioneering business school looking to shake things up. It felt like a seamless next chapter. So once I mapped out a path to get there, I ran with it. Best decision!

And the MIT portion that’s part of the MBA was such a treat. There’s just this indescribable energy and spirit of possibility at MIT that’s infectious. Combining that with all the exciting activity in South East Asia lights a fire under you, makes you want to be a part of writing the future rather than just reading about it.

That’s ultimately why I had to do my MBA at Asia School of Business – to immerse myself in the action and soak up all those dynamic perspectives. If parts of Africa really are on a similar trajectory, then we should pay attention and learn everything we can to play a role in propelling us forward. ASB may be the perfect training ground!

What is your opinion on the state of education on the continent?

Alright, full transparency – I’m no education expert by any means. My experience is more on the operational and business side of things rather than actually teaching in the classroom. But I do have some thoughts.

From where I’m standing, quality is on a concerning downward slide, at least in mainstream public education systems. And it’s stemming from a couple of troubling, self-perpetuating cycles.

  1. First up, the talent pipeline for good educators just isn’t what it used to be, at least in my humble opinion. I vividly remember as a kid being taught by those passionate, called-to-the-profession type teachers who saw it as their life’s purpose to uplift young minds. Nowadays though, way too many people seem to be stumbling into teaching not because they’re spiritually devoted to the craft, but because they don’t have better options. And can you blame them? Teachers are paid peanuts, especially in public schools. The respect and prestige of the profession has eroded over time. So naturally, you’re not going to attract as many of the truly gifted, inspiring humans to those roles. And when the teachers themselves are flatlining in engagement and motivation, it absolutely grinds down the quality of learning happening in their classrooms. It’s this vicious cycle eating away at education.
  2. The second problem I see is that we’re just fundamentally missing the point of what education should achieve these days. I worry that phenomena like social media, that instant dopamine feedback loop of likes and shares, have massively distorted how we measure and validate quality learning. Same goes for AI writing tools defusing the need for rigorous thinking and communication skills. Stuff like rampant grade inflation makes it impossible to separate the wheat from the chaff. Which just reinforces more misaligned incentives for students to chase empty credentials rather than deeply absorbing knowledge and developing vital skills.

These trends span the whole world, for sure. But I’d argue Africa is getting pulverized the worst because the vast majority of Africans can only access the public education system. So if these negative loops keep spinning out of control unchecked, it’s only going to exacerbate our human capital crisis and make it even harder for the continent to compete globally.

We’re playing catch-up in so many areas already. The absolute last thing we can afford is to keep sleepwalking through the erosion of our education foundations and crippling ourselves from a human potential perspective. Getting this fixed has to be the urgent priority. I don’t have all the answers. But I know that passionate, innovative educators and thinkers better start getting valued and empowered with a real mandate to revolutionize our approach. Otherwise, we’re just robbing future generations of their birthright – the opportunity to access truly transformative education as a lever for economic mobility and human flourishing.

Lastly, how can Africa ensure its education system is fit-for-purpose?

Man, this is a big one that gets me riled up. In my view, education in Africa has been totally hijacked by ideologues obsessing over stuff like “decolonizing” curriculums and pushing this myopic “African solutions for African problems” mentality. But they’re missing the bigger picture entirely.

At the end of the day, we need an education system laser-focused on equipping African talent with skills to thrive in the global job market and fostering innovation that can uplift our communities. All this philosophical navel-gazing about what qualifies as “African” knowledge is a destructive distraction from the real work of building world-class human capital.

Look, I’m all for ensuring African voices and perspectives get a rightful seat at the table in academia and don’t get erased from mainstream discourse. Our stories and cultures absolutely deserve to be preserved and amplified. But not at the cost of handicapping our young people’s competitiveness and future prospects.

Africans, like anyone else, simply want access to the best education and training available that prepares them for success – whether that pedagogy originated in Africa, Asia, Europe, or Mars. We’re not naive consumers who will settle for shoddy products just because they check an “African” branding box. Nobody operates that way. People buy what works and what creates value, period. So Africa’s education priority needs to be sourcing and providing efficacious models and curriculums that measurably elevate outcomes and skills-mastery. Wherever those happen to come from is totally irrelevant.

We can’t afford to keep coddling fragile egos or antiquated ideological hangups. That path just breeds insular mediocrity and subpar graduates unequipped for the modern world. Our young people deserve learning that unlocks their fullest potential and opens genuine doors to opportunity on the global stage.

Does that mean jettisoning African identity and history from curriculums entirely? Of course not. We have to find the right balance of building a proud sense of self while also ramping up future-focused STEM skills, creative problem-solving abilities, entrepreneurial thinking – all the goods that seed genuine socioeconomic mobility. But ideological purity tests and pandering can’t be allowed to trump providing the highest quality, most empowering education possible. Our existential priority has to be rapidly developing world-class human capital, even if that means pivoting from constraining dogmas and difficult truths. The stakes are just too high.

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