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WEIRD NEW WORLD

Varsities should adapt their teaching to changing times

Value of many degrees, diplomas lost in uncertainty of Covid pandemic

In Summary

• Most final-year students don't know if they will complete studies this year

• This calls for the retooling of approaches to learning for 'disaster preparedness'

Karatina University careers director Dr Kellen Kiambati
Karatina University careers director Dr Kellen Kiambati
Image: HANDOUT

We have done a quarter of the new year so far, and our society is in turmoil. This is evident all around us. Job losses and losses in businesses have aggravated this situation even further. Premises have closed in terms of business and some have moved to lower-cost neighbourhoods or even back to their upcountry homelands.

The situation paints a bleak picture indeed. On Saturday I hired a tuk-tuk to ferry my wholesale grocery purchases from the market in Thika to my home. We struck a chit chat. He said business was not good at all. He ferried me for half of what he would normally charge.

When people heard the presidential address and the lockdown notice, many fled to their villages. Thika now has a percentage of its normal population. The same is likely to be the case for other satellite towns of the counties on lockdown. The flow of goods and services have been disrupted significantly as markets grapple with the pandemic effects on small businesses.

To cushion the Kenyan economy against the vagaries and vicissitudes of the pandemic, the government has borrowed from sources inside and outside the country. Pundits argue the IMF loans will help but will also cause further societal anxieties. There are heightened rumours of looming job cuts and structural adjustments in major sectors of work.

The students and trainees who will graduate this year will enter into this world of uncertainty both as searchers and creators of work. It is not clear whether their various degree and diploma courses would have prepared them for this weird world of today.

However, one thing is for certain. Tertiary level learning institutions will need to rethink their preparation of students for the new and emergent worlds of work. There is a strong need t0 retool approaches to learning and teaching to create “disaster preparedness” across the disciplines as part of the content being taught to trainees.

This is what I advised as part of my community outreach mandate as a university don when asked to give a talk by the Centre for Careers and Placement Services of Karatina University recently. I shared my strategic thinking in a webinar on March 25 at the invitation of the director of the centre, Dr Kellen Kiambati.

Dr Kiambati has been consistent in her calls for paradigm shifts when it comes to marketing and entrepreneurship practices in Kenya in recent times. She is a public intellectual whose areas of research cover diverse fields of commerce and administration sectors of society.

In my talk, I took the cue from her school of thought and stressed the importance of strategic planning in relation to careers and career-building. I note that one of the ideologies that we need to harness from the West and customise for our needs is clear.

This concept calls for a critical focus on the nature of societies in crisis. Their nature is defined by volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity, known by the acronym Vuca. Such is our society at the moment as captured by the tuk-tuk driver in Thika.

The concept of Vuca developed in 1987 from leadership and organisation theories of American scholars Warren Burnis and Burton Nanus. Rapid changes in work situation across Kenya today has made the economic sector a volatile one. Absence of stability is the order of the day and is experienced even by the street vendors as well as the bourgeoisie.

Lack of predictability of how and when the government intends to address the pandemic in the long run has bred a climate of uncertainty. Most students in their final year of studies are not sure whether or not they will complete studies this year and whether they will find work or even chances to earn a penny or three.

The predictability of tomorrow and what the horizon brings is no longer guaranteed. The youth are expressing this sense of psychological alienation and complexity through noisy and nefarious lyrics under the banner of neo-music: Gengetone.

The morally corrosive missives in the clatter of this sub-genre reflect a world of ambiguity, unreal realities and suffocating situations of existence.

In light of this capricious era of a pandemic and cacophony of all sorts tugging at the heartstrings of many a poor Kenyan, what looks certain is the need to rise to the occasion and prepare a strategy for acclimatising to the times.

One wise teacher once quipped: Instead of waiting for the rain to stop or asking when it started to beat us, adjust and make an umbrella and walk through it. It is clear that the hard skills captured by course outline of important subjects in institutions of higher learning will continue being propagated.

Dr Makokha teaches Literature and Theatre at Kenyatta University. He is a seasoned youth mentor, too.