ENDEMIC CHALLENGES

Is Prof Magoha the antidote to Kenya’s education reforms?

Listening to him at the parliamentary vetting session, the Professor of Urology and Surgery did not disappoint

In Summary

• Countless attempts have been made to reform the successive education systems to align them to the competitive nature of the global economy.

• The tertiary level of Kenya’s education system comprised of vocational and technical training

Education CS nominee Prof George Magoha during his vetting at County Hall on Thursday
THIS IS THE POINT: Education CS nominee Prof George Magoha during his vetting at County Hall on Thursday
Image: JACK OWUOR

When Prof George Magoha was nominated by President Uhuru Kenyatta to head the Education ministry, opinion was unanimous that it was an inspired decision.

Kenyans were already fatigued with the myriad of crisis at Jogoo House and the ministry leadership appeared to be playing catch up games. Those who had witnessed the overnight transformation at the University of Nairobi and later the Kenya National Examination Council breathed a sigh of relief.

The Professor of Urology and Surgery had established himself as a no nonsense performer. He appeared as if he had a Midas touch for every national assignment he handled. He took over the leadership of the first and largest university in Kenya at a time when academic standards were headed south and government capitation could not match the expenditure needs. But he demonstrated a rare character of courage and faith and within the first two years of his rein, the financial fortunes of the institution had made a 180-degree turn. Staff performance increased almost tenfold and remuneration improved tremendously.

The university got into the world ranking system and established itself as an academic leader in the region. At the expiry of his tenure, he was invited to help sort out the rot and mess at KNEC. He promised and delivered immediately. Now, Kenyans have had their faith restored in the quality of KNEC certificates. It is this background of exemplary performance that made his nomination exciting to the public.

Listening to him at the parliamentary vetting session, Magoha did not disappoint. He was candid and answered more from his heart rather than from a point of seeking to impress for appointment. While he does not suffer fools, his humility is openly manifest. This is in spite of his intellectual stardom.

He, however, should keep in mind the ministry to which Kenyans expect a repeat of his miraculous performance teems with endemic management challenges. Most of these shortcomings are historical and a few are highlighted for purposes of public interest priority.

UNSUCCESSIVE REFORMS

Countless attempts have been made to reform the successive education systems to align them to the competitive nature of the global economy. Little if at all success has been registered. The country continues to produce graduates — at various levels — who are largely considered to be weak and unable compete favourably at the world labour market.

Currently the education system is stratified into three main tiers. The basic education covers stages from nursery up to form four. These are the critical stages of mental development. Reforms were first initiated soon after Independence to bring in the 7-4-2-3 system, which was meant to accelerate education and training of Africans to fill in the many demands for skilled labour in public and private sectors.

It was common for students to be recruited while preparing for Class Seven and Form Four examinations. The employment boom was short lived and by early 1980s, another review was commissioned: The 8-4-4 system was to ostensibly address the growing unemployment rates. It was expected that by end of Class Eight, a person would have adequate skills to be self-reliant. This would in turn stimulate economic growth since focus would then be more on income generation through cottage industries.

Job creation would be a by-product of thriving small-scale enterprises and the unemployment pressure on the government would naturally fizzle. This failed and recently, the government introduced the 2-6-3-3-3 system, which is being promoted as talent-based. It expected to encourage students to be more activity oriented in learning and gives more time for play and growth.

Concerns have been raised about lack of adequate stakeholder involvement and participation. So far no one seems to be clear in its efficacy except the Ministry of Education. What is widely publicised is the unpreparedness of the teachers and inadequate learning materials. Government officials have been variously accused of working in cahoots with publishers to fleece the public through fictitious supply of new books. This confusion is dangerous for basic education.

TERTIARY EDUCATION

The tertiary level of Kenya’s education system comprised of vocational and technical training. Largely people graduated with diplomas and to a lesser extent, certificates and craft trade tests. Vocational training included courses in health, teaching, business and hospitality et al. Other technical courses included those in building and mechanics engineering and maintenance. While it was appreciated that the country needed more capacity in technical knowhow for its economic growth, the vocational opportunities appeared more lucrative and attracted more. The country thus soon found itself with acute shortage of skilled manpower for its industrialisation vision. The technical schools were converted to training institutes and began to engage more on vocational courses than technical.

Government capitation to these institutions dwindled and many youth polytechnics closed shop altogether. Then the Sessional Paper No. 1 of 2005 found its footing in the Vision 2030. Attention begun to shift towards technical education and training to support the industrialised economy. However, the original vision of technical training as a quantum running from polytechnics through the technical training institutes to the newly established Technical Universities of Kenya and Mombasa was soon lost.

The technical universities were forced to ignore their respective TVET mandates because of bureaucratic bottlenecks. Therein lies the challenge and if not addressed in time, then the intention to produce engineers with corresponding numbers of technologists and technicians will go up in smoke.

POOR GRADUATES

The industry has complained time and again that the graduates produced have to be retrained to fit into their production and processing needs. They, therefore, claim to spend more in manpower costs. But it has been established that what the industry needs more are technologists and technicians. The question is whether the Ministry has responded appropriately. Does the increase in bursaries for TVET students on its own address the lack of interest in technical training by many Kenyans? Why should politicians continue to refer to TVET institutions as places for those who miss university placement? Kenyans should know, internalise and demonstrate faith that TVET institutions are most strategic in the realisation of the Big Four Agenda and Vision 2030.

The last tier in this stratification is the university education. During the Nusu Mkate government, there was massive increase in the number of universities: From a paltry seven public universities in 2007 to 38, including constituent colleges. It was meant to increase opportunity for university education and introduce training in some areas considered strategic for economic growth. However, many of these institutions ended up being established more on political grounds than sound training needs.

The trend has led to declining government funding. The number of Form Four students qualifying for university admission has gone down drastically since the Matiang’i-Magoha reforms. Universities now have to compete for students. Internally generated capital through Module II programmes have suddenly evaporated and lecturers no longer enjoy the luxury of parallel incomes.

QUALITY OF UNIVERSITY EDUCATION 

The quality of education and training at universities is a subject of national debate and there seems to be more heat and smoke than light. There are three issues that affect the ivory towers which require immediate attention. The government should review its funding model, which is currently based on annual capitation. This model does not take into consideration the number of students and the cost of specific courses offered. It is, therefore, not objective and is subject to manipulation by unscrupulous officials from the ministry and the universities.

The staff morale is at its lowest ebb on account of static remuneration and increased workload. Lecturers are said to have become more militant and insensitive to emerging dynamic student needs. This has generally made learning unresponsive to global trends. Research that lead to learned publications has declined and universities are not as competitive globally.

On the other hand, many students are no longer scholarly and seek shortcuts to the glory of degree certificates. They have been conscripted to the national corruption malaise and no longer ascribe to higher ideals. They instead actively seek to join parochial interests that promote tribal cleavages agenda. So unless the education structure is reassessed and reviewed in its entirety, the new system may continue to be an exercise in cyclic futility.

As we wish him every success after his vetting Prof George A O Magoha clearly has his job cut out!