Honorary degrees recognize individual’s enduring contributions to society and acknowledge lifetime achievement in their field. These degrees awarded for the sake of honor are awarded even to people with no previous postsecondary education nor with prior connection to the academic world. The earliest honorary degree on record was awarded to Bishop of Salisbury, Lionel Woodville, in honor of his exemplary service to the community in the late 1470s by the University of Oxford. The tradition has continued such that institutions like Harvard University boasts of over 2300 honorary degrees since its establishment in 1692.
The idea of recognizing an individual's competence, skills, knowledge and achievements irrespective of how they were acquired is being increasingly normalized across the world. This is in appreciation of unlimitedness of human ingenuity and originality in the pursuit of life and the attendant economic and social goals.
Countries such as the United States, Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, Malaysia and South Africa recognize the importance of recognizing non-formal and informal education, promoting flexible qualification and the value of the certification systems. This has proved to be crucial to economic inclusion, generating sufficient labor force, addressing unemployment challenges and freeing individuals into productivity.
Locally, the informal sector contributes to almost 80 percent of employment opportunities. Majority of this workforce is composed largely of school dropouts who have acquired a series of marketable skills, capacities and abilities through non-formal and informal learning as well as work experience. However, according to a recent report by the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics, these labor-force still face serious challenges while seeking job opportunities here and abroad for lack of formal education and certification of their competence.
For instance, despite the acquired skills and experience, our Jua Kali artisans or your neighborhood masonry and plumber have limited opportunities. This is because most of them cannot access tenders and can neither be recognized by potential employers in the corporate world or distant markets owing to lack of certificates.
Thus, it’s imperative that Kenya too joins in honoring these knowledge, skills, and work-experience acquired informally or even post-formal education. Towards this end, besides technical and vocational education and training (TVET) which imparts knowledge and skills through formal, non-formal and informal learning, President Uhuru Kenyatta provoked initiation of a revolutionary policy for evaluation of our nation’s knowledge, skills and experience in the informal work-force. A policy was enacted as the Kenya National Qualifications Framework Act 2014. Through the Act, the Kenya National Qualifications Authority (KNQA) was established which among other mandates, recognizes, honors and awards certification to those with valuable informal or post-formal prior learning knowledge.
KNQA has since put in place a national framework for harnessing talents from the informal sector dubbed Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL). This seeks to have skilled laborers with no formal education but contributing to flourishing of society, subjected to assessment by examination bodies and later awarded with a certificate of recognition. The certification will demonstrate that the bearer was assessed against prescribed standards or learning outcomes for knowledge, skills and competencies acquired in non-formal or informal learning. This includes apprenticeship, self-learning, creativity and innovations as well as work experiences.
It is envisioned that through RPL, Kenya will formalize the informal skills and knowledge, thereby open millions of our skilled laborers to billions of opportunities beyond our nation’s borders and usher them into the global economy. The certificate of recognition will enable recipients, including the masons, plumbers, mechanics, electricians and beauticians to access jobs, and also shield them from work related exploitation by local and foreign employers. In addition, the certificates will also serve as useful testimonials in the event they choose to further their studies.
This massification of skilled laborers through RPL and the specialized TVET skilling promises to turn our country into a regional hub of skilled laborers. As such our country shall experience increased productivity and also export manpower to our neighboring economies of East Africa, across Africa and beyond. More so, RPL is a huge boon in the realization of our development and economic growth as articulated in the Vision 2030 as well as achievement of the Big Four Agenda.
By Hon. Zack Kinuthia
Chief Administrative Secretary, Ministry of Education, Republic of Kenya
State Department of Vocational and Technical Training