We sat down with Keith Leavitt, our Education Program Manager, to learn a little bit more about his involvement with A Better World, his philosophy of education, and some of the most life-changing experiences he’s had during the course of his career.
How did you get involved with A Better World?
Philosophically, I became involved the first time I heard Brian and Eric speak about A Better World. My wife and I had recently come back from Pakistan, where we spent nine years in the mid-eighties. We taught and worked at the hospital in Karachi. Bernie, my wife, had all three children there and was involved with the music and English program at the school. We wanted to continue to think about those less fortunate than ourselves, in Canada and other parts of the world, to see what we could do to make a change.
What’s your philosophy of education? Why is it important?
Education is important because it plays a fundamental role as an equalizer between people. A lack of education and various forms of illiteracy continue to widen the gap between the privileged and the impoverished. If everyone could have an education, the gap would narrow, and there would be greater equality of opportunity for all people of the world. Education is, therefore, a fundamental agent of change – wherever positive change is going to take place, it will go hand in hand with education. An educated populous will be a wiser, more determined, and more peaceful group of people. They will discontent with the status quo and find ways to improve their lives and the lives of their children.
What do you define as quality education?
The simple definition is: teaching children what they need to learn in a way that they will best learn it – that’s a quality education. We could have all kinds of bells and whistles, but if we’re not teaching the children what they need to learn, in a way that they can learn, it lacks quality. But factors outside of education are important too: Are the basic needs of the child being met? If a child is coming to school hungry, then they won’t receive quality education because they won’t be able to focus on what’s presented to them.
What’s one (or some) of the most life-changing experiences you’ve had while teaching / while working with ABW’s education program?
Helping students achieve their goals – can’t describe how rewarding that is for me. I taught kindergarten in my 4th or 5th year of teaching, and I remember showing a kindergarten student a picture of an animal and writing the letters below it. I watched as this child memorized the word to repeat it, not actually knowing how to read yet, shouting, “I can read!” Their goal was to learn how to read, and they were so excited to achieve this goal that they would celebrate early. They had to continue to learn, and they did eventually achieve their goal, but whether a student says, this is what I want to do “today” or “with my life,” having a part in helping them achieve that is personally very rewarding. The students in Afghanistan and Kenya amaze me, to be honest with you. I know the difference between the schools in Afghanistan/Kenya and schools here in Canada. I have experienced the differences in resources, facilities, and education of teachers first-hand, and yet I’m still almost overwhelmed with what they are able to do with the little that they have in Kenya compared to what we have here in Canada. It makes you think, “why is that?” Part of it is the students’ recognition that it is a privilege. They want to learn. The teachers are also extremely dedicated. And so because of this eagerness and dedication, it is the perfect investment for A Better World. Every dollar spent delivers incredible rewards in the improvement of quality education
Why do Kenyan students view it as a privilege compared to Canadian students?
In Kenya, they have school fees—which may seem little to us, but make up a great percentage of their parents’ wages. Often kids aren’t able to go to school for a semester because their parents simply can’t afford to send them, and their peers notice. Comparing themselves to the student who was absent for some time is kind of a painful way for them to see how much can be learned in a certain period of time. As a result, students want education. They recognize the difference it makes as those who have gone to school earn better jobs with higher incomes—better ways of living. They see it as a way out of their current struggles. In Canada, we do not have that same level of pressure in most communities.
What is the biggest similarity between the schools in Kenya or Afghanistan and the schools here in Canada?
The children. They are alike in so many ways. They are curious, excited—almost anxious—to learn. Yet at the end of the day, they are excited for school to be over for the day. They love to laugh, goof off. It’s that basic joy and innocence to life that stays the same.
People helping people. People with some advantage or privilege (financial, skills, knowledge, experience) helping people who don’t have that same advantage or that same privilege.
You can learn more about our education program by clicking here.