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Education Begins at Home: Meet Kayti Denham

British educator and activist Kayti Denham inspires her students to learn about the world and the interconnectedness of all things. Kayti is a real multi-tasker, taking on the roles of Creative Action and Service (CAS) Coordinator, Good Clinical Practice (GCP) Coordinator, Global Youth Conference Coordinator, as well as a secondary school English teacher.

Kayti, what is your background and how did it lead you to teaching?

My mother was a teacher, so I decided early in life that I was never going to be a teacher! But many of the things I did led me to teaching.

I first came to Bali on a honeymoon and fell in love; my love affair with Bali lasted longer than the marriage. I went to Australia for a year, returned to Bali, then to England, India, and back to Australia where I eventually landed in Byron Bay. There I worked with a youth programme which I really enjoyed, and I studied permaculture and worked in media. I also worked in the music video industry in Sydney while my partner of the time was working in East Timor during the transition to independence.

I qualified to teach English as a second language and joined him in East Timor, living there with our two children for a year and a half. I loved it there, but there were limits and I was offered a job in Bali, so the kids and I moved here.

What is your definition of education?

Education allows for the development of thought by considering things from different aspects; to look at the motivations behind the actions then look at the reaction and effect of that motivation to make logical, responsible responses in any number of situations. These skills enable us to negotiate properly through language.

What is your personal goal in teaching?

I wanted to be the teacher I always wanted to have. Teaching is not a job; it is a passion. I want to give my students the opportunity to love and understand the art of learning for the rest of their lives.

It is not about making learning fun. I want it to be enjoyable, interesting and engaging. I think education can afford to challenge more. I am not sure of the value created when learning is proposed as ‘fun’. I think young people are smarter than that.

Learning is about developing a healthy curiosity and following that with research, developing and utilizing one’s imagination. I want to support my students to push the established boundaries, to be inquisitive and apply their unbounded creativity.

What age is the most pivotal in education?

The most important time in a student’s education is the transition from primary school to secondary education. All of a sudden there is real work and pressure involved and there is a risk that we lose the magic of learning in the quest for results.

Kayti DenhamWhat is your proudest moment as an educator?

When my daughter decided to be a teacher also! She graduated just last year from the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology in Australia.

As for a proud student moment: Bambou Chiappa’s speech at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change conference in 2009. As a 13-year-old, she, with other students from Sunrise School, addressed the open session of delegates and they gave her a standing ovation.

What other educational programmes are you involved in? In my research I found you to be involved in so very much, I need you to break it down for me!

I coordinate the GINBali Global Issues Networking Conference for school students. I believe in bringing global issues education into the classroom, such as human rights, animal and marine rights and conservation, clean food and the issues that we must address for our future survival as a species.

About four years ago, two students Molly and Chloe responded to their experience watching Rob Dyer present at a Global Issues Networking Youth Conference in Singapore by creating one in Bali. At this first conference, Isobel and Melati launched Bye Bye Plastic Bags, and last year Kids Cut Palm Oil formed. It is incredible what kids can take away from the conference and feel empowered to then follow with action.

Tell me about the importance of teaching life skills to prepare students for their future.

I believe every school should have a garden where we can all learn about our responsibility to ourselves and our communities to have clean food, water and air. I do think – although not everyone agrees with me – that we must be proactive to create a better world. But it’s not about everyone becoming the same; we can be proactive through our passion, so if it’s music, science, or dancing, web design, cooking or architecture, it doesn’t matter – it all has its role to play.

I think I started being ‘active’ as a teenager, but I was angry and not effective. Education has changed so much, and part of what I now do, as an English teacher, following the curriculum, is teach about conflict, and to look at different causes or reasons for it, and efforts being made to reduce or escalate it. Last week my students listened to Marvin Gaye, Edwin Starr and Jimi Hendrix to begin an exploration of how a counterculture can start through the arts.

What are your future plans?

I am looking forward to working with other educators who are leading students to seek sustainable solutions at a conference in June, and in September I will be encouraging our new group of Year 12s to visit the Dayak village of Tembak in West Kalimantan or to explore the Leuser ecosystem in North Sumatra. Then we have the GINBali conference in September, which will be hosted in Central Borneo and will be an amazing opportunity to work on some major issues at their geographical heart. And because I really do try to take my own advice, I am pushing my own boundaries to go on a driving and camping adventure in Africa.

Thank you, Kayti. To get in touch, email kaytype@gmail.com

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Karen Davis is a NYC artist and writer.