November 15, 2014 |
by- EGARA KABAJI
Why should we expect excellence when we continue to nurture a mostly weird and skewed education
“Why should we expect excellence when we continue to nurture a mostly weird and skewed education system that vomits poorly prepared nationals?”
A friend of mine asked this disturbing question in this paper recently. A natural reaction from one who sits where I sit would be to challenge the idea and defend the current education system and the practice of delivering it.
In academia, there is hardly any position that cannot be defended, however bizarre it may be. But this question is staid enough to send all of us in the education sector back in the trenches.
Before this remark was made, I had just attended the Executive Committee meeting of the Inter University Council of East Africa (IUCEA) in Bujumbura, in which a damning report on the performance of graduates from East African universities was one of the subjects of discussion.
The deliberations of the (IUCEA) meeting were not based on witchcraft or mere speculations, but on tangible research findings from a study on employability of graduates from East African universities.
The study, carried out by the council in conjunction with East African Business Council (EABC) stirred the hornet’s nest (excuse the cliché) and exposed the soft under belly of education systems in the entire East African region.
In a nutshell, this study revealed that over half of the graduates from East African universities are unprepared for the job market.
Listen to these statistics.
Only 37 per cent of graduates from Ugandan universities are prepared for the job market.
In Tanzania, only 39 per cent of graduates can undertake jobs in their areas of specialisation.
Only 45 and 48 per cent of graduates from Burundi and Rwanda respectively are on top form for the job market.
Kenya leads the park with 49 per cent of graduates from its universities competent to undertake responsibilities for which they trained.
Naively, one may be tempted rejoice that we are better than our counterparts. But in reality, these facts assume frightening proportions when you imagine of how they impact on your personal life.
What the report is saying is that over half of the doctors who attend to you are likely to get the diagnosis wrong. Less than half of our advocates can competently defend you in a court of law.
In schools, most of the teachers are not competent to give proper instruction to your child. And, yes, over half of the journalists we train cannot produce a clean copy. By all standards, this is dangerous.
If these research findings should be believed, and we have no reason to doubt their authenticity, then the education systems in the region have to reform, and if not they will remain irrelevant to the economic, social, cultural and industrial needs of the people of the region.
Nevertheless, to argue that the problem is only at higher education is to miss the point.
If higher education system produces garbage, then it is fed with garbage. That is why a critical examination of the entire process of education is imperative. Higher education is, however, the fulcrum on which the economy should revolve.
It should create opportunities to exploit the resources of our nation and create wealth. But these research findings show that all our hopes and expectations are built on quick sand.
This is basically because the training we offer is not skills and competence-based.
There is a need for a paradigm shift in our approaches.
Universities will need to adopt skills and competence-based approaches that empower graduates with the necessary practical and theoretical skills to perform in an ever changing and competitive environment.
FOCUS ON QUALITY
These approaches should also enhance critical thinking in our graduates. Our products should be confident and work with minimal supervision.
They should also be empowered with high moral and ethical values. In this respect, parallel training in soft skills and virtues with strong mentorship programmes should be instituted in universities.
More importantly, universities will have to focus more on quality than quantity and put in place structures that will ensure that we produce graduates that match the expectations of the industry.
To do so, the exchequer will have to, inevitably, increase expenditure on higher education.
We also have to engage industry much more, not only in curriculum development, as it is the case, but also in provision of hands-on apprenticeship programmes. The urge to acquire papers, as Kenyans say, should also reflect what is put in the head.
It therefore appears that universities will have to brand along lines of production of quality graduates and research output.
I think the battle will not be, so much, on opening satellite campuses and numbers, but on research output, attraction of research funds and customer satisfaction.
This need necessitates the evolution of a framework on resource sharing amongst universities especially in programmes where virtually all universities have shortage of staff and infrastructure.
We will have to invest heavily in staff development and the building of a research culture that will ensure renewed commitment to scholarship and search for knowledge.
With this culture in place, lecturers will be weaned from the perennial quandary of moonlighting to well-funded research projects that also guarantee their comfort.
A combination of these strategies will lead to improvement of student-lecturer ratio in our universities.
The bottom line is that we are under obligation to make universities relevant in production of manpower and build them as hot spots for generation of new knowledge.