As a passionate and an acclaimed academician, what do you think of alternative pathways such as middle-level colleges and technical training institutes provided for those who do not qualify for university entry?
I am all for it. As a matter of fact, I am currently writing books tailored for Technical Vocational Education and Training, TVET, in the area of communication. At the end of the day, we need technical people. This is an area that has a lot of earning potential, so it is definitely an important area to consider. Again, not everybody has their forte in academia, so we cannot expect everyone to take that route.
How did your journey to becoming an academia begin?
The journey for me was not an easy one, and on several occasions, I considered dropping out of school. My family was not financially strong and my education was so much of a strain. But I was an A student and somehow I got help and I was able to continue with school. Actually, up until the age of 26, I did not exactly know that my life was headed into the academic world. The realisation dawned on me when I was in the US pursuing my postgraduate studies, so basically, I did not set out to become an academician, my passion in literature took me there.
What can young people in universities today do to improve their level of learning and actually contribute to scholarship and the development of the society?
Students need to develop a passion for reading and for knowledge. Our learners also need to have a curiosity that will drive them to search deep into things. Having an intellectual curiosity means that you will not just become satisfied with things superficially and that to a great extent will drive your scholarship. Students need the capacity to realise that they are ignorant and work to rid this ignorance.
What would you say are some of the differences between the university back then during your time as a student and now when you are an advanced scholar?
Back then, we had just one university compared to now when we have many. Our classes were also very small because enrollment into university was not as much as it is now. We had say 3,000 or 4,000 students getting into university every year then, unlike now where we are talking about upwards of 80,000 student enrollment. Due to this small number, the interaction with students and teachers was more personal than it is now. We also used to have tutorials, smaller groups where we would meet regularly with tutors to ask questions and debate issues. I don’t see a lot of that happening now.
Do you think that the ‘war’ about superiority of some university courses and careers is justified?
There is a misconception about the science subjects. People assume that only bright kids go into science courses. Over the years, I have seen so many bright students crossing over to the non-science courses. I think some of this pressure also comes from parents, and so children have been pushed to make terrible choices. I was an A student and I did not even go to law, where I was expected. The key thing is to have a true passion in whatever field you go into - don’t just go there for the name.
What age were you when you fully placed a finger on what you wanted to do with your life?
I was about 26 or 27 and well into my postgrad studies. I was very mature I can say. The other difference between then and now is that we started school very late but it still worked out right.
You have taught many students, here and abroad, and some of these students are now following in your footsteps – as lecturers, as researchers—what would you say is the state of the growth of the academy?
Well, I can say that we are not contributing to knowledge as much as we should. Africa in general contributes very little to the new knowledge generated in the world, just about 2 per cent with a big chunk of this coming from South Africa. There is need for the academia in Kenya and on the continent of Africa to double up research effort and move past recycling old knowledge.
What would you say has been your most distinguished achievement so far; what is most important to you?
Outside family (my kids are very successful), the books that I have authored are doing very well in schools. My students are also very important to me, and having a stake in their successes is something that makes me immensely proud.
Apart from the academy, what else interests you in life?
Creative writing. I am also passionate about putting values in education, and this is an authorial area that I have invested in.