Home / China / Focus

Kenya must take new look at education

By Mary Mutinda | China Daily Africa | Updated: 2015-05-24 14:39

Paradigm shift is a must if country is to realize its industrial dream

In the mid-1980s, Kenya realized there was not enough employment for the growing number of young people. This was particularly disconcerting when graduates filled the streets looking for elusive white-collar jobs.

As a result, the government invest heavily in research on curriculum development, which gradually led to a shift from A levels, a system borrowed from the British, to O levels, which emphasize practical subjects.

The objective was to empower students to become self-sufficient and embrace alternatives, such as blue-collar jobs. Village polytechnics were promoted to churn out technicians who would fuel the industrial revolution that was to be the backbone of the economy.

This heralded the rise of an informal sector known as jua kali, or hot sun. Many of those who left polytechnics could not find jobs and decided to become self-employed, and so under the blazing sun they forged things the populous needed in everyday life, such as storage boxes made of iron sheets for those who could not afford suitcases and oil tin lamps for those who could not afford lanterns.

It suddenly looked like a hardship, and few young people leaving school were willing to venture into the sector. The original problem, unemployment, raged on.

Blue-collar jobs were looked down on to the detriment of the manufacturing sector.

Down the line, the unemployment rate ballooned and unofficial figures put it at 45 percent. The jua kali sector still exists, but is obviously starved of innovative minds and funds to bring it up to global standards. Most wares made here have seen little or no improvement.

The subtle changes to the education system are yet to change the mindset of young people.

The situation was made more dire two years ago when new students protested against undertaking a technology program and insisted on taking a "cleaner" engineering program at the newly elevated Kenya Polytechnic, now known as the Technical University of Kenya. Even though the program offered them a better chance of being absorbed into the job market.

The students wanted a more elitist program, pointing out that the new bachelor's of technology should be left to diploma and certificate students in technical colleges and polytechnics.

The students were uniquely positioned, as the engineering program they were insisting on is widely offered by nearly all of Kenya's higher institutions. Yet once in the job market fresh graduates are not equipped to handle mundane tasks, forcing manufacturing companies to reinvest time and money to put them in technical, hands-on courses.

A paradigm shift is needed in Kenya's education system. To become industrialized and achieve the goals set out in its Vision 2030 blueprint, the country needs to have at least 7,500 engineers, 22,500 technologists, 90,000 technicians and about 450,000 artisans. Currently, the country has 6,000 registered engineers and no technologists.

Newly chartered colleges such as the Technical University are poised to address this gap. Thanks to collaboration with China, the college has a state-of-the-art workshop in which students can sharpen their skills before entering the job market.

The planned pilot project by China to relocate some of its industries to Kenya will definitely support and even speed up the paradigm shift that is taking place in the country's education system.

For a long time, Kenya has been revered for its knowledge capabilities compared with other African countries. But it is common knowledge that we may not really have what it takes to deliver the industrial revolution we are speaking about.

By re-investing in education, we may see Kenya follow the path that saw China industrialize within two decades. The Chinese industrial sector wants to relocate because rising labor costs are eroding bottom lines.

Kenya, and Africa in general, also has a growing youth population educated and eager to be productive. These are the people who will peddle the envisaged industrialization. They are also the people who are pushing innovation, and the combination will indeed bring a revolution.

But for all this to happen, Kenya needs to seriously revamp its education sector.

The author is a lecturer at the School of Finance and Applied Economics, Strathmore University.

Editor's picks
Copyright 1995 - . All rights reserved. The content (including but not limited to text, photo, multimedia information, etc) published in this site belongs to China Daily Information Co (CDIC). Without written authorization from CDIC, such content shall not be republished or used in any form. Note: Browsers with 1024*768 or higher resolution are suggested for this site.
License for publishing multimedia online 0108263

Registration Number: 130349