By KAMAU NGOTHO
On Sunday, I watched cabinet secretaries Fred Matiang’i and Joe Mucheru explain on television what went wrong with our education and examination systems. I couldn’t agree more.
Talk to any corporate employer and, if they’re frank enough, will tell you one of their biggest challenges today is to get qualified staff, yes, qualified as opposed to merely having academic papers.
I know it because I have been a newspaper editor. In the newsroom one of my daily chores was to go through write-ups from staff and external contributors and decide which ones to publish.
I would get articles by people with masters’ degree but who can’t communicate in English, the language of instruction in our schools.
You know it when you go through a write-up to the third paragraph and can’t tell what the author is talking about.
Those are chaps who walk to your desk, bamboozle you with fake accents, but wait until you ask them to put in writing what they’re talking about.
The spelling and sentence construction is atrocious.
Wonder today why in the electronic media, for example, we have more DJs and comedians than thinkers.
And the problem isn’t restricted to the media industry.
Any corporate head can tell you a huge chunk of their budget is going to in-house training.
You hire those double masters, but wait until you give them a desk and discover they are zero in terms of usable skills, creativity, and self-drive.
So you have to go back to the drawing board and train them to think and to work.
Sadly, a number of them turn out to be untrainable even at that stage, simply because all their school-life, they were coached to pass or steal exams but not to think on their own and do some productive work.
As an employer, you are left with no choice but to let them go unless you’re philanthropic enough to let them hang around as part of the furniture.
Where did the rain start beating us?
The first goof we made was to create a nation that believes everybody must go to university and be a graduate.
Never mind how well baked the graduate is. The issue was to graduate, period.
So as a nation we embarked on mass-production of “graduates”.
We began by converting every good middle-level college to a university.
We did away with great colleges like the Kenya Polytechnic whose higher diploma in engineering had better premium in the labour market than an undergraduate degree.
We killed Jomo Kenyatta College of Agriculture and Technology, which was supposed to give us high-skilled, hands-on diploma holders to launch us into the still elusive agro-industrial economy status.
We killed the Kenya Science Teachers College, the Kenya Technical Teachers College, and any other middle-level college of repute you can remember.
All we wanted were university “graduates” so to hell with middle-level colleges.
Next we embarked on opening up campuses of this or that university at every available space in town.
We’d university “campuses” atop garages and next door to the fish market.
One of the “campuses” in a town I won’t mention was next to a well known brothel!
And why not, we were in the business of mass-production of “graduates” – and making money just like those in the oldest profession!
Are you surprised that a recent survey indicated more and more of our college girls are students by day, and prostitutes by night!
At the moment we have more than 70 public and private universities, more than in some of the Asian-Tiger countries.
In South Korea for example, university education is just for few elites.
The chaps building the cars on our roads and electronics in our houses are diploma and certificate holders.
The few college graduates they have are in the lab designing the next generation of i-phone.
But here we have less diploma and certificate holders but thousands of jobless “graduates” whose technical knowledge of a car doesn’t go beyond changing a burst tyre.
This is unlike the old days when we had as many diploma and certificate extension officers out in the field helping modernise our agriculture for more productivity.
Today they’re rare species but we have an army of agriculture “graduates” idle in the streets.
The craze to mass-produce graduates inevitably had to give birth to exam cheating.
Because a degree certificate was all that mattered, we began to coach, not teach, our children to “pass” examinations at all levels – KCPE, KCSE, and university.
Then we advanced to stealing the exams.
After all, why do the coaching to pass when you can buy the answer sheet on the last day before the exam?
In short, let’s go back to the basics and re-introduce competence and skills based education as opposed to exam/papers based “education”.
That way, we won’t have to mourn that we have very few “As” and so many “Ds”.
Instead we will celebrate that we’re making good use of every “A” and every “D” – even “E” to move to the country to next level of development.
By the way, do Kenyans know the best paid CEO of the most profitable company in the country, Safaricom, has no university degree!