Learning because they Want to

William Kamkwamba, source: wikipedia

This is a picture of William Kamkwamba, giving a lecture at TED (Technology, Entertainment and Design) in 2007. He’s from Malawi, a small country in southeastern Africa. He’s an inventor, engineer, designer, author — and from what I can tell, a genuinely kind-spirited individual. He’s famous for teaching himself basic physics and engineering from a book he found in a library, and rigging together a electricity-generating windmill with scraps of material he found around his village and at a junk yard.

Kamkwamba’s self-designed windmill, 2002 Source: wikipedia

Kamkwamba’s story is a classic tale of ingenuity and how self-directed energy can lead individuals to discovery, invention and greatness. Kamkwamba pursued a dream with zeal, so it didn’t matter what his resources were. Passionate people tend to be pragmatic ones as well. He used what he had available and accomplished what should have been impossible. When someone has passion — or a will to do something — resources are secondary.

When I hear stories like Kamkwamba’s, I’m reminded of students living in the first world. In many cases, their situation is completely opposite of people like Kamkwamba. These people often have all the resources but none of the will — none of the passion.

I’m also reminded of Japanese English classrooms. The resource to passion ratio is stunning. Students have all the resources they need (and more) to become fluent in English, yet so many don’t.

There’s a tendency to blame results on resources. But what about the passion?

Give someone passion but few resources and anything is possibleBut the opposite isn’t really true: Give people every resource but no passion and everything is impossible.

I’m tempted to say if we could simply inspire passion in students to learn English we could basically throw them scraps of newspapers and they would teach themselves. It’s an absurd  notion, but I think you get my point.

There is a passion deficit in English classrooms. Students have every resource they are going to get. The missing link? You guessed it – Passion. Figure out how to bring that to the table and we’ve just changed the game of English education in Japan.


  1. I think I might have found a way to inspire passion into students. Lately I do more things outside the workplace. I teach English on my own time outside of work. I take the advice from rice. If you eat rice by itself it is very unhealthy. The rice gets transferred to sugar straight away and this is a main cause of type 2 Diabetes. However, in India they always put a little Ghee on their rice or clarified butter. The rice thus gets digested very slowly and is very healthy. You should always have a little fat with your rice.

    In the same way we have jobs and the jobs make us money, but we need to purify the money to make it healthy. In India they do Seva-or they do things with no hope for reward. It purifies money. You are definitely a person that inspires English learning outside the classroom and you are creating passion in students, not just in your school by the way I think. I simply wanted to teach you a fun fact about rice and how it relates to passion! I tried the smile thing out today and it was very good!

    Thank You,


    • Thanks for the comment and interesting story about rice. Keep me updated about how the smile greeting works out and how you remix it.

      Is your outside the workplace teaching with your students or with other people/friends?

      In a similar vein to maybe mixing the rice with butter, I have been trying to develop a better rep for English around my school. Right now, English has a mostly academic, “this is a required subject” feel to it. I have been trying to give it a image change by hanging out in the hallway with books, pictures, fake money, rubick’s cubes and other stuff in a place I call “English Spot”. I’m trying to get lots of students to just hang out around there while they are on their afternoon break and just engage with those who want to talk in English.

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