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Collaboration for innovation, creative minds from Ireland and Kenya launch a new course in Digital Creative Media in Nairobi

By Niamh Brannigan on November 13, 2012

This week, at Nairobi’s Kenya Institute of Education (KIE), 16 aspiring young digital creatives are gathering together with experts and tutors in animation, graphic design, gaming and apps development, and digital music production, from Ireland and Kenya, to embark on a three month pioneering multi-disciplinary course in digital creative media.

The practical initiative, which is the brain child of GESCI and funded by the Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Finland, and hosted by KIE, is designed to furnish talented Kenyan youth with the kind of digital creative media skills that knowledge intensive industries now demand, both in Kenya and beyond. It is designed by experts from Ireland’s Ballyfermot College of Further and Higher Education, which is renowned for the outstanding quality of its courses, having produced graduates who have excelled both nationally and internationally in a range of creative disciplines.

While Kenya does boast a small number of institutions and initiatives specializing in one or other of the four course disciplines, this is the first initiative of its kind in Kenya to take a multi-disciplinary approach to developing digital creative media skills. Students specialize in one discipline, but must work at intervals with students from other disciplines to learn how to collaborate on creative projects utilizing a variety of skill sets. The multi-disciplinary approach simulates real-life digital creative media processes, whereby animators, graphic designers, gaming and apps developers, and digital music produces work collaboratively to produce new content. Crucially, the students will create a professional network that will prove invaluable to them when they complete the course and begin pursuing their careers in earnest.

At the course launch, the course designers presented portfolios of work that clearly awed and inspired the students. From Kenyan hip-hop music videos; and European pop-songs; animated airline adverts; award winning animations; games and applications; to breath-taking photography of the Kenyan landscape; and album covers of heavy metal bands, students got a taste of the opportunities that await them if they complete the course successfully. Success in this case translates as a portfolio of work that reflects the range and depth of their new skills and knowledge. The students were reminded that while technology is the device that brings together the various components of animation, graphic design, gaming and apps development, and digital music production, it is essentially just a tool. To excel at digital music production the students must understand the language of music; they must understand their own musicality – something no technology can teach them. Similarly, in graphic design, they must have a sense of colour and style, and develop their own design approach. Only then will the technology help to set their work apart. In animation, and gaming and apps development, imagination and ideas are fundamental ingredients in the creative process, from inception to final product – not to mention patience and perseverance – with even the simplest of games, apps, and animations requiring a great deal of time and dedication to produce. Students were made aware that while the tutors can teach them, what they know, what they achieve with that knowledge is entirely up to them. Guest lecturers will provide insight into the machinations of digital creative industries, from the perspective of clients, digital artists, and free-lancers. They will share information on market trends, new creative processes, and compare their experiences of working on rich variety of digital media projects.

See photos here!

The students later described how they had struggled to find formal training initiatives in Kenya that would enable them to take their skills to the next level. Those institutions that do provide some formal training in digital creative media are in short supply, and are often beyond the financial means of many young people. To compound the challenge of accessing the right training, these institutions do not always have the most contemporary equipment and course content, which then place graduates at a disadvantage to those who have received training in other parts of the world. Ultimately, like the Kenyan tutors who are largely self-taught, any expert in the field of digital creative media must continually hone their own skills to remain competitive. However, providing scaffolding in the form of relevant content, software, hardware, and experienced teachers, accelerates the pace of skill and knowledge acquisition to the point where innovation becomes more likely.

This course is a very rare opportunity for a lucky 16 Kenyans to launch their careers. But for the many other talented, passionate and ambitious youth with a desire to excel in this field, there are currently insufficient resources available to them to do so. While we do think of this course as remarkable in scope and quality, we must also remember that the youth everywhere are owed the opportunity to express their creativity, to excel, and to aspire to be and have more than what they have inherited. The chance to realize their ambitions should be given them willingly. What they do with it is down to them.

We talk endlessly in Africa of the ‘youth problem’, that is, the millions of unemployed young people on the continent. It’s not a problem. It’s an injustice. The statistics are often quoted, including the 10 to 12 million young Africans who enter the job market every year, but solutions are less forthcoming. The reality is that there is a serious mismatch between the skills and knowledge graduates are leaving higher education institutions with, and labor market needs. In addition, African youth are persuaded that the objective of their education should be to find white collar jobs. The education systems in Sub-Saharan-Africa are not producing a sufficient quantity of entrepreneurs, self-starters and innovators, and the public sector, and insufficiently robust private sector, just can’t absorb the numbers of young people seeking employment. Efforts are being made by governments across the continent to reinvest in relevant vocational education and training, because, once ignored in favor of higher education, vocational education and training is finally being recognized as one of the most important antidotes to youth unemployment in Africa today.

Innovation is the fruit of collaboration, because when we share our knowledge, that knowledge expands, and when we recognize the originality of another’s creations, we truly learn. These 16 young Kenyans won’t complete the course with a degree from an academic institution, because no animator, musician, designer, or gaming and apps developer ever became a success story solely because they performed well in exams. The proof of their talent will be in their work, and the degree to which they feel they have enriched their skills, each one having started at a different point. The world is changing, and so are our perceptions of what skills are actually important, and what constitutes talent, success and creativity.

And in this changing world the future is very promising for these 16 Kenyans.

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Communications Manager at GESCI - founded by the UN ICT Task Force in 2003
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