2019 Keynote Speaker: Mahid Abdulkarim’s Journey from Sudan to St. Louis

 What makes students motivated to learn and focus in class? Mahid Abdulkarim speaks on his own experiences at school, and what gave him the motivation to go to school excited as a teenager.

Mahid was born in Khartoum, Sudan, in 2004. He graduated from Marble Hill School for International Studies (New York), and currently studies at Washington University in St. Louis. He has attended three eLearning Africa conferences, one in which he was a plenary keynote speaker. He has always been interested in entrepreneurship and is now Founder and CEO of digital marketing agency BMA Media. He wants to use the resources he earns from his success to open more schools and add eLearning systems to schools in Sudan. He is currently a board member at Alpha International community school (Sudan), and a proud member of the Sudanese Open learning initiative (SOLI). Mahid is a confident and experienced public speaker, whose views on skills, innovation and the challenges facing young people in Africa are sure to provoke a lively discussion.

As dawn pierced the skies above the once vibrant city of Khartoum, Sudan, my daily routine began like any other Sudanese student. Mama made an effort to wake me up as the grownups sipped on her wonderful milk tea, which is a staple in any Sudanese household. We still chuckle about her attempts to get me up for school and the day both Mama and Baba gave up, grudgingly inviting our friendly chauffeur to take a shot at cutting my deep slumber short. Can you really blame me? Like most students in Sudan, I had little motivation to go to school, However, unlike most, I embarked on another privileged day of learning at a reputable private school.

The journey, despite being a relatively short drive, felt weighed down by textbooks, enforcement of traditional learning methods, and a significant rule – technology was an unwanted intruder. A mere glimpse of a cell phone could lead to swift disciplinary action, reinforcing an iron-clad wall between students and the digital world. The classroom environment was monotonous and tiresome. The drone of the teacher’s voice, the rustle of pages, and the unending scribbling of notes painted a dull tableau of education. My friends and I would often exchange looks of mutual understanding, finding humour in our shared predicament. Our grades were consistently low; ‘F’s were so commonplace that we would often laugh about it. The day one of us secured an ‘E’, it was celebrated as a significant achievement, a rare triumph over the unbending learning system.

The traditional methods of learning made it difficult for us, the so-called Gen-Z kids, digital natives who were used to consuming tech-savvy content all day. Nonetheless, we knew it was hard on our teachers too. Trapped in an antiquated system that did not allow them to explore creative teaching methods, their potential to motivate and inspire was stifled. This struggle with education in Sudan often led us to dream of a different learning environment, one where technology was harnessed rather than shunned, and where teachers were given the platform to be creative and innovative to their true potential.

This dream became a reality when my family relocated and I took the opportunity to move to the United States. My transition to the United States offered a stark contrast.  I enrolled at Marble Hill School for International Studies, a public school located in Bronx, New York that embraced technological integration in its teaching methodology. This school environment breathed new life into my educational journey, enabling me to dive deep into subjects I was passionate about. For the first time in my life, I was waking up on my own, a small achievement that demonstrates the power of technology in schools. The school’s philosophy celebrated technology as an educational ally rather than a distractor. Ironically, Marble Hill doesn’t allow the use of phones in school, yet using tech tools like laptops, tablets, and smartboards is encouraged, not penalized. My experience at Marble Hill, juxtaposed with my time in Khartoum, allowed me to see the transformative power of e-learning first-hand. My engagement with the material increased, I understood complex content better, and even developed a renewed sense of curiosity. This freedom to interact with the coursework, control my learning pace, and clarify doubts virtually was refreshing, and vastly different from the rigidity of my previous educational experience.

This all-encompassing approach helped me maintain a 4.0 GPA for three years with an impressive average grade of 97. The subsequent leg of my American education journey beaconed me to Washington University in St. Louis, a top 15 university in the USA.

My journey paints a compelling narrative for the potential of e-learning and the necessity for African countries, especially those like Sudan, to invest in educational technology. It’s not merely about digitizing classrooms; it’s about creating adaptable, flexible, and accessible learning environments that cater to each student’s unique needs. Investment in educational technology is an investment in Africa’s future. The current war situation in Sudan highlights the problems perfectly, with physical schools being inaccessible due to safety concerns, the lack of online resources means that a whole generation of Sudanese students might spend a year, or more, uneducated. This grim situation underscores the dire need for immediate investment in educational technology. By facilitating a learning environment that nurtures curiosity, cultivates a love for knowledge, and empowers students, e-learning can redefine the educational landscape. As Africa navigates its path towards educational advancement, I earnestly hope that the power of e-learning lights the way, ensuring a brighter, more prosperous future for Africa’s youth.

As I reflect on my odyssey, starting in the traditional classrooms of Khartoum, passing through the tech-embracing corridors of Marble Hill School in New York, before eventually reaching the hallowed halls of Washington University in St. Louis, I see a journey marked by transformation, resilience, and unending aspiration. I see a story that stands as a testament to the incredible potential of e-learning in reshaping educational landscapes and unlocking student potential. As we stand at the crossroads of change, I urge educators, policymakers, and stakeholders across Africa to harness the power of e-learning, to kindle the spark of curiosity in young minds, and to fuel the engines of progress for the continent. My journey is just one among millions, a beacon of hope and promise, illuminating the path towards a future where every child, irrespective of the circumstances of their birth, has access to a transformative, empowering, and inspiring education.

One Comment

  1. Excellent read. I wish you the best

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