It was already past lunchtime. The sense of impatience building amongst the delegates in the conference hall was palpable. But when Abdikadir Ismail, Principal of Mwangaza Muslim Mixed Day School, Samburu county, took to the podium to give a speech at the just-concluded 10th African Federation of Principals at Pride Inn Paradise Beach Resort in Mombasa, the room fell silent.
Ismail executed the presentation with zeal, capturing the attention of the over 1,300 delegates from 10 Africa countries. At the end, there was pin-drop silence followed by a sustained echo of applause.
And as the conference dispersed for lunch break, he was mobbed by hordes of visibly elated colleagues from across the continent.
Ismail spoke of how he waded through a career laden with hardships and still managed to leave a trail of success and hope.
All manner of challenges, including poverty plagued him. Notwithstanding, after his university education at Kenyatta University where he graduated with a Bachelor of Education (B.Ed) degree in History and Kiswahili in 1996, Ismail returned to teach in Baragoi, infamous for cattle rustling.
“My career started in 1997 when I started as a teacher in Baragoi Boys High School. It was an area that many people did not want to go to because of conflict. But I decided to go there because it was an area where children need us more,” the Principal says.
He adds: Just like the situation is today in the northeastern Kenya, I feel sorry because teachers are running away. Who will help these children become better? We should look at where we are needed most and go and help.”
According to the school head, who also doubles up as a History and Kiswahili teacher, teaching in a conflict area like Baragoi was not an easy task.
It was an area that required immense courage, as he often “witnessed young children brandishing guns.” Ismail, however, braved the situation and even partnered with a variety of organisations to implement projects to help children and the community, including organising scholarships to keep students in school. He said when he started his work as a teacher he decided that his first role was to embark on peace efforts to ensure peaceful coexistence with “rival” communities in the area.
“I did this through engaging the students in poems, drama, music and various art performances. These gave me an opportunity to be promoted and I became the deputy principal in that school,” he said in an Interview with People Daily.
Later, he moved to Kirisia Boys’ High School in Maralal between January 2008 to August 2011 where he realised that majority of students in the school came from poor backgrounds, but they loved soccer.
“I organised for all the footballers in the village to come back to school and it became a force to reckon with in terms of sports. They were champions in the region despite the fact that we did not have a soccer pitch and I was the coach…people started loving the school,” he recalls. He was thereafter transferred to Maralal Day School, nestled in the desert where he started a greenhouse and soon the school began producing plenty of vegetables, attracting admiration from the entire neighbourhood.
Ismail still keeps a number of photos as memento for the historic journey. Among the photos he has is a picture of one of his first shanty mud-walled offices. It reminds him how far resilience has brought him.
While still serving as a teacher, Ismail pursued his Master of Education (M.Ed.) in Education Management at Laikipia University between 2012 and 2015 where he worked on a thesis on the effects of cattle rustling on education in Samburu North Sub County
In 2016 he was posted to his current school Mwangaza Mixed Muslim school, which was defined by abject poverty as some students could not raise cash for fees.
“I started a project called Sh50 a day and appealed for colleagues and friends to contribute. What we charge for day school is Sh4,500 and I divided it 90 days and realised we need about Sh50 per day. So friends contributed and we managed to bring back students to class,” recalls Ismail.
In his career, he has also demonstrated passion for technology in teaching and learning.
As an administrator of an under-resourced school, Ismail says he saw an opportunity to make a difference by using technology. With no science lab at his school he sent teachers to schools with those facilities who filmed their practical experiments and they were played back via a laptop in his school.
He is a firm believer in acting local, but thinking global. One way he puts this into practice is by using Skype in the classroom.
He has helped the chemistry teacher and his students to interact with others from a school in Malaysia as they collaborated on a chemistry project. It is against this backdrop that the Mwangaza Muslim Mixed Day School made it to the top list for the global teacher prize 2018. Ismail was among 50 teachers shortlisted for the coveted Sh100 million Varkey Foundation Global Teacher Prize 2018. “I was happy to realise that my efforts were being recognised. I am not the best in the world, I have never won the Principal of the Year award, or Teacher of the Year award, but I became one of the top four from this country who have been the top 50 nominees out of 30,000,” he says, adding they were taken to a global education summit in Dubai where he interacted with a number of key players in education.
He is now one of the Varkey Ambassadors and he is encouraging other teachers to apply in the competition.
Now in its fourth year, the global teacher prize, arguably the largest prize of its kind was set up to recognise one exceptional teacher who has made an outstanding contribution to the profession as well as to shine a spotlight on the important role teachers play in society.
Ismail’s gestures, according to statement from Varkey Foundation, had exhibited hallmarks of a typical teacher with an unswerving passion for teaching profession.