Start when you already have a finished plan! So the wisdom of nature teaches us. Do we have a robust finished plan to guide Kenya’s basic education system towards generating the quality of home-grown human resources we need? To paraphrase key statements from two renowned Kenyan professors: Without careful planning and sustained funding for adequate local capacity building, we will keep borrowing technology from China due to lack of local capacity, and Vision 2030 will therefore not be achievable (Prof. Francis Aduol). Again, universities in Kenya have shifted from the public-good paradigm to a market model that embraces the neoliberal ideal of development, which places economic survival ahead of other priorities (Prof. Laban Ayiro).
The year 2030 is fast approaching, which is Kenya's target to be a newly industrialising, middle-income country providing a high quality of life to all citizens. Though we can cite several Vision 2030 milestones such as infrastructure development (e.g. road bypasses, port dredging and expansion in Mombasa, standard-gauge railway construction, University of Nairobi Towers) and launching a new constitution, the local human resource base is still far from adequate, and is ill-prepared for the Vision 2030 priority sectors.
It has been estimated that by 2030, the population of Kenya will be 60 million. Going by the UNESCO-recommended ratio of one engineer for every 2,000 citizens, this population will require 30,000 engineers; hence, some 90,000 engineering technologists and 360,000 technicians. These figures already show why emphasis on technical and vocational training is critical. Underproduction of hands-on professionals to support the holders of technical degrees in industry therefore remains the weakest link in the chain as far as technical capacity building is concerned.
The Leadership Challenge
Fortunately, there is an emerging trend of African centres of excellence focusing on thematic capacity building areas to address specific training needs. This development challenges African governments to lead in instituting structural changes in their basic education systems to help sustain a supply of quality and practice-oriented graduates. The Kenyan-German Centre of Excellence for Mining, Environmental Engineering and Resource Management (CEMEREM) stands out as an example for the extractive sector, being one of the Vision 2030 priority sectors targeted for focused capacity building.
Human resources development is therefore a fundamental enabler to the Vision 2030. This requires quality and marketplace-oriented training, mainly in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematical sciences (STEM). Effective training in these areas must be responsive to the times and changes presently shaping the global labour and technology marketplace. This means that only leaders who can manage time and change as far as today’s demands on training are concerned can deliver the critical mass of human capital needed for the Vision 2030.
In light of the above facts, the suitability of graduates from various training centres remains a central consideration. Time is critical to the administration of pedagogy and student assessments, so is quality control. This dual challenge has to be technologically enabled, given the ease and speed with which today’s mobile and web technologies can be used to compromise standards.
By recently ensuring excellent administration of national examinations for primary and secondary schools in Kenya, the Cabinet Secretary for Education, Dr. Fred Matiang’i, and his able team, have started well on planning for the transformation we need in Kenya if we are to produce competent and home-grown human capital equipped to deliver on Vision 2030.
Flashback on Research Findings
On the need to transform Kenya’s basic education system to boost national innovation capacity, the leading thought in my previous article based on a 2014 – 2015 cross-country survey on basic education delivery was:
The quality of basic education, in terms of how effectively it imparts critical thinking and problem-solving skills, has a strong influence on the innovative aptitude of any graduates – anytime, anywhere.
The leading argument was that we must initiate reforms from the basic education level if we are to achieve excellence at tertiary education levels, since colleges and universities train students who are products of the basic education system. This is the simple wisdom of seeing the big picture (systems thinking) while addressing root causes and exploring feedback pathways.
The survey revealed that the prevailing basic education system does not effectively address the core areas of systems thinking, talent identification, scientific inquiry, spatial intelligence, creative arts and communication skills (Access the entire article here). Unfortunately, these areas are critical to the human-resource demands of Vision 2030.
After discussing the results of the survey, which drew examples and interviewed respondents from across the world, the following two conclusions emerged.
1. Discovering and developing creative talents right from primary school is a critical intervention point in nurturing innovators who can solve real-world problems and impact society.
2. African countries should have a fresh look at the quality of their basic education systems, critique how they interface with socio-cultural settings and marketplace needs, and come up with revised structures and policies that will help produce the right graduates for the local development needs in an evolutionary manner.
It is encouraging to note that the proposed 2-6-3-3-3 system of education, if properly implemented, will address the weak areas identified above. The implementation of the 8-4-4 system of education has not effectively addressed the crucial areas of talent identification and impartation of practice-oriented skills. The velocity of changes at the basic education level has also seen a widening gap between private schools and public schools in terms of facilities, work-play balance and holistic training. Effecting corrective measures through the new curriculum will require that the implementation team flex its muscle to ensure compliance with the highest standards, and better still, institutionalise well-proven success factors and systems.
Reference Point in Kenya’s Basic Education Reforms
The year 2016 will forever remain a reference point in Kenya’s history of basic education. Dr. Fred Matiang’i and his able team ensured watertight quality control in the administration of the national examinations for primary and secondary schools. Technology was used to ensure real-time transmission of marked results, thereby reducing chances for manipulation. The results consequently came out in record time, almost three months ahead of the preceding trends. The credibility, accuracy and overall quality of these examination results were convincing to all and sundry.
The overall performance for the 577,254 students went back to the expected normal distribution curve, as provided for by the Central Limit Theorem for large numbers. This outcome reminded many of the former days when achieving a mean grade of A plain attracted unquestionable glory. Nationally, the scorers of A plain reduced drastically from 2,685 in 2015 to a mere 141 in 2016. Lecturers of engineering and sciences had been complaining about A-students from prestigious schools who, ironically, could hardly comprehend scientific fundamentals or execute independent research after joining university; they should expect promising students from this 2016 cohort.
The good news across the country is that all the students who scored the minimum university entry grade of C+, being half of the previous numbers in that category, will be placed in the Kenyan public universities. This means that after a long time, since the early 1990’s, C+ can now give hope to the students who would otherwise miss university education, unless they were able to pay high fees as privately sponsored students. The rush to escape middle-level colleges by all means has also suffered a near-death blow. This had been the usual trend with the skewed performance that was fuelled by examination irregularities on the one hand, and privately sponsored students taking up a large share of space in public universities with lower scores on the other. In terms of degree programmes, Kenyan public universities have been more attractive than private universities because the latter have not been offering prestigious courses such as medicine, engineering and technology, architecture, among others.
Technical and vocational training to supply the key practical skills highly needed for the country’s development has a chance to blossom with this new outcome. This will help address the widening skills gap that has adversely affected the supply of hands-on cadres of professionals (technologists and technicians).
Going into 2017 and beyond, the President’s directive to assign permanent personal identification numbers to learners in Kenya is supposed to take effect. The previous cross-country survey informs this new strategy to lay emphasis on identifying the learners’ talents through an integrated assessment and evaluation process. This should help minimise the wastage of talents and rare skills, which has characterised the previous education system where the blind rush to have "at least a university degree" has seen many students struggling with disciplines they were not cut out for. At any rate, a well-thought-out industrial internship, recruitment and job-creation model remains an indispensable part of the winning strategy.
By Nashon Adero
PhD Reseacher at Technische Universität Bergakademie Freiberg (Freiberg University of Mining and Technology - Germany)