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Education system overhaul good for economic transformation

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By PETER WARUTERE
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The storm brewing over the planned introduction of competency-based learning exposes the crisis in the education sector. Although the government and other stakeholders agree on basic reforms, their focus on sideshows demonstrates lack of goodwill and commitment to transforming education into a catalyst for economic and social transformation.

Education Cabinet Secretary Amina Mohammed should be emphatic not just about the roll-out in January, but also how it’s supposed to integrate in the schooling system. There should be no confusion about the intent, time lines and process. Any changes shouldn’t disrupt the school system or disadvantage the learners.

Moreover, the Kenya National Union of Teachers (Knut) secretary-general Wilson Sossion should devise more proactive ways on matters education instead of using threats of mass strikes to intimidate the authorities, parents and students.

The changes shouldn’t be seen in the narrow spectrum of replacing the archaic 8-4-4 (number of years students spend in primary, secondary and university) system that was introduced by former President Daniel arap Moi in 1985 with a more dynamic one.

The proposal to implement a 6-6-3 curriculum, focused on seven core competencies that enhance the learner’s potential and talents, should be considered in the broader context of using education to cure development constraints.

The changes, implemented progressively from lower primary school and scaled up to university, shouldn’t overshadow the urgent need for the government to restructure higher education to make it relevant. The drive should be to achieve a desirable balance of quality skills to respond to the demand for low-, middle- and high-skills human-power.

Greater effort should be put into building a strong labour pool of technicians to reduce shortage of such skills for the industrial sector. Some industries have reported openings for middle-level cadre, but can’t find them in the local job market, so they import.

The solution would be for the government to expand training opportunities at technical and vocational level and should slow down the rat race for worthless paper degrees that condemn university graduates to joblessness and misery.

The depth of this problem is evident from annual university enrolment. Even though only under 15 per cent of high school leavers score university entry grades, university enrolment is double that of technical and vocational training institutions. In 2017, for instance, there were over 575,000 students in public and private universities, but 275,000 in TVET institutions, according to the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics figures.

A fundamental change is necessary to orient learners to a rapidly changing national and global environment. Education should be one of the key drivers of change. It should equip learners with knowledge and skills to enable Kenya to respond to challenges of technology and innovation, convergence of markets, regional integration and others.

The school system should feed the job market with skills needed to grow enterprises and improve performance of the public sector. The focus of the changes should be on quality output at the end of the learning process and how that fits into the skills mix required to achieve development goals.

Other problems that need to be fixed include the relationship between the education authorities and key stakeholders. The row between the government and Knut over teacher transfers won’t end until there’s a clear policy from the Teachers Service Commission on the matter that is clear, equitable and predicable so that teachers anticipate when, how and where they are likely to be transferred.

Government should also deal with chronic absenteeism by primary and high school teachers and university lecturers — a serious form of corruption that wastes public resources and condemns students to poor learning outcomes.

That would help to build a vibrant human-power hub with relevant knowledge and skills to drive economic prosperity.

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