Education reforms achievable, though difficult to implement

Wednesday January 11 2017

Class four pupils of KK Nkengecia Primary School in Tigania West during a lesson on January 9, 2017. PHOTO | PHOEBE OKALL | NATION MEDIA GROUP

Class four pupils of KK Nkengecia Primary School in Tigania West during a lesson on January 9, 2017. PHOTO | PHOEBE OKALL | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

The 2016 Standard Eight candidates joined Form One this week. They were the first Kenya Certificate of Primary Education (KCPE) examination candidates under the new reform measures.

Reforms attract resistance. Sincere people will come with open resistance, seeking to dialogue, while others plan hidden resistance out of unfounded fear. Some others will even advance malicious resistance that is borne of ill intentions.

However, I appreciate the critical role of players in the education sector and the public, who sincerely realise that it was time we candidly confronted our challenges and collectively sought solutions to them for the sake of our children.

Reforming the sector will not take one national exam season, one class or a simple set of policy and legislative actions. It will necessarily take a lot of time, persistent focus and collective action. Many renowned education systems have been built over a long time.

We must remain honest to ourselves and, to quote Michael Gove, former British Education secretary, “stop lying to children about their life chances and allowing inflated examination grades compared to Soviet tractor production propaganda” as “there’s no crime greater than lying to children — and that’s why we need to tell them the truth”.

ENSURE FAIRNESS

The path to last year’s credible exam results was neither easy nor will they be sustained in an environment that will always be conducive. In our effort to ensure fairness, objectivity and transparency in the management of exams, we ran into severe bottlenecks.

But we ran a credible exam and released formidable results in both KCPE and Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education (KCSE).

Beneficiaries of leaked KCPE exams went on to join the best schools, where they benefited from stolen KCSE exams only to flop in the competitive programmes at universities to which they were admitted.

As we celebrate the transition rates and growth in access to university education, a time has come to introspect and balance the production of university graduates with a requisite pool of technical skills to support them.

We must ensure a balance of skill sets to offer a seamless technical pool all the way from certificate to diploma, bachelor degrees to master’s degrees.

There were 577,253 candidates who sat KCSE last year. Of these, 88,929 scored the minimum university entry mean grade of C+ and above. As disturbing as this may seem, the results indicate that we have a large population of secondary school leavers who qualify for tertiary and technical training.

We must shift from the populist view of white-collar jobs, which are highly pegged on university degree qualifications, and focus more on skills-oriented approaches that equip our youth with practical skill sets that match their aspirations and can help our country to become a middle-income industrialised nation.

ARTIFICIAL DEMAND

The historical policy mis-step of closing down middle-level colleges and making them universities is one we have to be candid about and correct. Its repercussions are out there for all sincere people to see.

Such unwise decisions created an artificial demand for university education, the most horrific consequence of which is that more than 80 per cent of students are in the liberal arts and humanities courses, completely at variance with our development needs at this time.

The massification of universities has dealt a body blow to the quality of university education. We cannot continue to live a lie.

The Kenya Vision 2030 champions a growing and inclusive economy fostered by strong knowledge-based sectors, particularly manufacturing and services.

Achieving this will depend heavily on how well equipped the graduates are with 21st Century universal skills. I wish to encourage the youth to apply for courses in technical and vocational institutions, where capacity is ever unmet.

In the past year the government commenced a review of the national education curriculum aimed at shifting from a subject-based curriculum to a competence-based one.

This is an abridged version of the speech by Education Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang’i at the launch of this year’s Wings to Fly scholarships in Nairobi