Technical Education is Key
For Kenya to meet self-set targets such as the vision 2030 and the four pillars of the jubilee government, technical education is key. Can the current system deliver on these targets? Will manufacturing create 1.3 million jobs by 2022? Will Kenya become industrialized in 10 years’ time? Your guess is as good as mine. The problem is not what we are doing now, it’s what we’ve been doing since independence. We started on the wrong footing by inheriting an education system that had been installed (like a software) to make us readers and not writers, consumers and not producers, employees and not employers, tenants and not landlords, job seekers and not job creators.
The Need for Innovation and Entrepreneurship
The colonial education system in which Kenya and the rest of Africa inherited, was ill suited to our own history as a people and to our needs as a society. We saw nothing wrong with the extra emphasis on examination performance as we prepared individuals for the white collar job market. It took us decades to discover that the system was wrong and needed complete overhaul. In came the infamous 8-4-4 system which was meant to convert Kenya into a middle income economy by producing skilled craftsmen, a noble idea if you ask me, but after decades of frustration, and starving the system of funds, we saw the need to tweak it a little more and introduce another system of education – again! While the education system keeps on changing, our mind-set hasn’t changed from the colonial mentality we inherited. Schools and colleges are mainly inclined towards the white collar job market, and very little of technical skills, innovation or entrepreneurship in general.
The False Prestige of White Collar Jobs
Kenya is contented with spending 4.5 million shillings on training an engineer (we have more than 8,000 engineering graduates, 1900 of them registered by the Engineers Board of Kenya) who cannot build a bicycle instead of 10 artisans who can assemble a vehicle. We are contented with spending 5.7 million shillings training one doctor who cannot treat without drugs or the necessary equipment, instead of training 1000 community health workers who can prevent diseases. Our engineers and doctors then refuse to go to the grassroots and either run away to the rest of Africa or stay in the city where patients can pay. Our system is poor at identifying and nurturing talent. Our system is poor at rewarding excellence in fields other than academics. Parents would rather buy exam papers for their kids to get straight As, or bribe the examiner to ensure stellar performance that will guarantee admission into a prestigious school of engineering or medicine than risk the thought of their son or daughter becoming a renowned pastry chef. It’s not about the money, since there are chefs, musicians, sportsmen, car repair mechanics, and small business people earning more than doctors and engineers, it’s the poor old mind-set drilled in us since time in memorial, it’s the prestige that comes with white collar jobs!
The Kenyan government must get its priorities right, starting with the education system. We must shift away from training more managers than craftsmen, we must make skilled labour attractive again, we must begin to reward creativity and innovation so that craftspeople and artists can regain their place at the centre of our development as a nation. It’s not about changing the number of years spend in kindergarten, primary and secondary school, or college. Whether a child spends two or three years in kindergarten, six or eight in primary, four or six in secondary, or whether we divide the six years in secondary or not, we cannot change what we are aiming to achieve as a nation.
Pure Sciences are Overrated
It’s very exciting for young parents to promise laptops to children in kindergarten and lower primary (some of these children have no roof above their heads, nor desks to sit on, nor clothes to protect them from the July cold) but it would be fundamentally fulfilling to give the same to college students inclined to Software Development and train them on how to create jobs for themselves and their peers in the sector. It defeats logic to force all these young children to excel in math and sciences when some of them just want to sing or play and can therefore excel as musicians and sportsmen making this country achieve its goals.
Spot and Nurture Talent
Can we spot these talents at an earlier age? Can we nurture them to be the best? Can we support aspirations from a tender age? Out of all children in Kenya who enroll in pre-primary, about 85 percent attend primary school and 75 percent of those who complete primary education proceed to secondary schools and 60 percent of those who complete secondary school proceed to institutions of higher learning such as vocational training centres, polytechnics, and universities. We lose a big chunk of these children in every transition because of misplaced priorities arising from wrong needs assessment. Isn’t it disturbing that with more than 60 universities and more than 1000 technical colleges in the country, we still can’t assemble a simple gadget, let alone manufacture the same? Isn’t it astounding that our graduates cannot do under water welding, operate the standard gauge railway or produce a transistor radio? If we went back to the drawing board, none of our children would be lost to the perpetual cycle of poverty that has engulfed us over the ages.
Support Innovation and Entrepreneurship
To nurture talent and support innovation and entrepreneurship, we must agree as a people to change the mode of delivery in our academic institutions and adopt a more learner centred approach. We must begin to appreciate that all children have different capabilities and that these capabilities must be enhanced by proper approaches instead of being stifled in the name of stellar academic performance. It doesn’t make sense to belabour a child who is clearly an upcoming musician or footballer with countless assignments on abstract things like integration and matrices. Let us decolonize our education, economy and politics, and everything else will fall into place.