Tribute to MJK

June 7, 2011 in General, News

mjkelly_01On 29 May Michael J. Kelly SJ (of Tullamore) was preparing to drive 250 km from Lusaka to preach at a Golden Jubilee celebration of the Jesuit school in Chivuna, Zambia, when he got word that he was to attend a Ministry of Education Awards ceremony the same evening. He travelled the 500 km to and from Chivuna, and reached the ceremony not knowing why he needed to be there. After a string of awards to students and institutions, the Vice- Chancellor of the University of Zambia read a citation naming Michael for the Presidential Award ($10,000 equivalent) for his outstanding individual contribution to education in Zambia. “You could have bowled me over with a feather!” said Michael. The citation gives some idea of the lifetime of devoted and expert service that lay behind the award. Read more below.

Essentially, the award was for long and unfailing personal dedication to education in Zambia. Michael is one of the few people still alive in the country who served in schools before Independence (in 1964), possibly the only one still alive who was so closely associated with the development of all of Zambia’s education policies (in 1975, 1991 and 1996 – the published version of the 1996 policy is actually in the format in which it came off his computer!), and one who is known by thousands of Zambians either from school or university days. It is gratifying for him to meet people in all walks of life who have participated in his courses. He does not  know half them by name, but they remember him and what he tried to give them. What is even more gratifying is to meet former university students who were not registered for any of his courses, but who came to his lectures because their friends told them they were informative and helpful. Because of this long and pretty well unbroken involvement with education in the country, he has been referred to as the Grandfather of education in Zambia!

Outside of the country, Michael is well known as a speaker and advocate on HIV and AIDS, especially in the interaction with education, but also in other policy areas such as strategies for HIV prevention or human rights aspects. Over the past twelve years, he has averaged almost forty speaking assignments each year, most of them outside the country and almost all of them involving some newly prepared presentation that usually drew very appreciative acclaim. Driving all of these was concern for justice, for children, for women’s rights, and for the marginalised. In this way they fitted well into the Society’s approach and reflected the inspiration which Pedro Arrupe left to us.

The work goes on. Since Easter Michael has been to Honolulu and Johannesburg, and before going on leave in July he will be in Botswana and Uganda. Earlier this year he wrote a booklet on Catholic Social Teaching and HIV/AIDS. While most of his concern now is with the HIV epidemic, educational issues come into this all the time, and he is still fairly extensively engaged in promoting work for young people (google Restless Development and you may see something of what’s happening in Zambia), grassroots communities (try to find RAISA, Regional AIDS Initiative for Southern Africa, to get some idea of what goes on in the wider southern African sphere), and disadvantaged children (especially through providing back-up support for community schools in Zambia).

Citation for Presidential Award to Professor Michael Kelly for Outstanding Individual Contribution to Education

Professor Kelly first arrived in Zambia in 1955. Throughout the years since then he has contributed extensively to education in this country and elsewhere, maintaining his interest and connection even after his retirement in early 2001 from the University of Zambia. At first he taught at secondary school level and, during the period just before and after Independence, served as Head of what we know today as Canisius High School, years when under his leadership the school developed greatly in numbers and in the physical and academic spheres. Later, following the completion of doctoral studies, he moved to the University of Zambia, taking up appointment as a senior lecturer in the School of Education in January 1975.

Professor Kelly became a Zambian citizen in April 1968 and in June 1975 became the first Zambian Dean of a School at the University of Zambia. From 1979 he served as the University’s Deputy Vice-Chancellor before returning in mid-1983 to extensive lecturing, research and writing responsibilities in the School of Education. He progressed quickly to the rank of Associate Professor and later to that of Professor of Education.

Professor Kelly is a multi-faceted and multi-disciplinary person, an educator and a Catholic priest, with high-level academic qualifications in Mathematics, Philosophy, Theology, Child Psychology, Educational Psychology, and Educational Management and Planning. His understandings in these and other areas nourished his broad-ranging and lively lecturing, research and consultancy work.

Throughout his period at the University of Zambia, Professor Kelly was closely involved with the development of education in Zambia, participating in the educational reform movement in the 1970s, the production of the 1991 policy report Focus on Learning, and the development in 1996 of the current education policy Educating Our Future. He also wrote and acted vigorously on behalf of more and better education for girls and was a strong advocate for the improvement of educational opportunities for those at greatest risk, particularly those attending community schools.

In the late 1980s, seeing that the expansion of HIV and AIDS would impact negatively on teacher supply and productivity and would greatly increase the number of orphaned and vulnerable children, Professor Kelly introduced modules in this area into the courses he was teaching. This has brought the University of Zambia the distinction of being one of the first universities in the world to take account of the AIDS epidemic in its teaching programmes.

In subsequent years, Professor Kelly greatly extended his engagement with the epidemic and became well known in Zambia and elsewhere for his informed and passionate presentations on the educational and other implications of HIV and AIDS. In this regard, he has made presentations on education-related and other aspects of the epidemic in almost every English-speaking country in Africa as well as in a number of Francophone African countries, across the Caribbean, in North America, in a large number of European countries, and in several countries of Central and South-East Asia. He undertook many of these assignments while maintaining his responsibilities at the University of Zambia, even when this required that lectures be held at 0600 hours before he would have to rush to catch a flight for some engagement abroad. The fact that students never complained about this early start to their daily schedule, but always turned up in full numbers for these dawn lectures, shows how highly they appreciated them.

As the years progressed and the demands became greater, it eventually became necessary for Professor Kelly to retire from university responsibilities so that he could dedicate himself more wholeheartedly to the work of confronting HIV and AIDS across the world. But this separation from the University did not mean a separation from educational developments in Zambia. These remained an integral part of his life, particularly through his involvement with Zambia’s National Assessment, the work of community schools, and the development of an AIDS response within the Ministry of Education.

Over the many years of his commitment to education and development, Professor Kelly has served as a consultant with a number of international agencies: the World Bank, UNESCO, UNICEF, the FAO, UNAIDS, UNFPA, UNECA, the Commonwealth Secretariat, the Association of African Universities, OXFAM, Irish Aid, the SADC Parliamentary Forum, and others. He has been a member of the International Reference Group for the Swedish and Norwegian HIV/AIDS team based in Lusaka, since its inception in 2002.

Since 2006, he has been a member of the Council of Consulting Fellows for the International Institute for Development Planning (Paris) and also a member of the Council of the University of Botswana (Gaborone). In addition he is a board member for RAISA (Regional AIDS Initiative for Southern Africa, based in Pretoria), Restless Development (formerly Students Partnership Worldwide), Zambia Open Community Schools, Zambia Senior Citizens Association, and   the Zambia Truck Drivers’ Association (as a member of the Advisory Board).

Professor Kelly’s long list of publications includes some fifteen books, numerous articles in professional journals, and several teaching modules relating to educational management and planning in a world with HIV and AIDS. Highly significant books are Education in Declining Economy (Economic Development Institute of the World Bank, Washington, 1991); The Origins and Development of Education in Zambia (Image Publishers, Lusaka, 1999); Planning for Education in the Context of HIV/AIDS (IIEP, Paris, 2000); Challenging the Challenger: Understanding and Expanding the Response of Universities in Africa to HIV/AIDS (The World Bank for the Association for the Development of Education in Africa, 2001); Education and HIV/AIDS in the Caribbean (with Brendan Bain: IIEP and Randle Publications, Jamaica, 2003); Education: For an Africa without AIDS (Paulines Publications, Nairobi, 2008); and HIV and AIDS: A Social Justice Perspective (Paulines Publications, Nairobi, 2010).

In recognition of his contribution to education in Zambia and to service given to education throughout the world through HIV advocacy, the Association of Commonwealth Universities presented Professor Kelly with the Symons Award in September 2003. In recognition of his leadership role in the field of education and HIV/AIDS, the University of the West Indies conferred on him the honorary degree of Doctor of Science in 2004, while the National University of Ireland conferred him with the honorary degree of Doctor of Laws in 2006 for distinguished service in the field of HIV and AIDS.

Also in 2006, the Irish Government established an annual Father Michael Kelly Lecture on HIV and AIDS and a Father Michael Kelly Bursary to enable Zambian students undertake higher studies relating to education and HIV/AIDS. In 2006, the Forum for Women  Educationists  in Africa (Zambia Chapter) awarded him the first ever Kabunda Kayongo Award for “immense contribution through research on girls’ education”, while in 2010, the First Lady of South Africa, Madame Thobeka Zuma, presented him with a Humanitarian Award for commitment to health and HIV and AIDS in the southern African region. Professor Kelly’s record shows exceptional and sustained personal commitment to education and to the reversal of the AIDS epidemic. In this way, it marks him out as a person who has made an outstanding individual contribution to education in Zambia and across the world and hence one who is worthy to receive the Presidential Award.

It is therefore my privilege this evening to propose that Professor Kelly be presented with this award.