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KCSE results: Kenya needs a serious vocational training plan

Sunday December 24 2017

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This week’s tsunami of E's and D's is a bitter pill that soured the Christmas mood of most teachers plus a million parents in Kenya.

Last year, when the 2016 results were released, I said that Dr Matiang’i and his team had delivered in amazing ways. It had restored hope and credibility to our national examinations.

I had ended my article with a warning, “What happens after the 2016 KCPE and KCSE cannot become Dr Matiang’i’s Vietnam. He should secure the future, because, ‘Yesterday is not ours to recover, but tomorrow is ours to win or lose’.”

I am sure this question is now in every parent’s heart: Did Matiang’i secure the future? Has 2017 become his Vietnam?

Great educational reforms are in the pipeline, but we have already lost a year…a generation, we have sentenced to death the dreams of 540,428 young Kenyans. This is a massive unforgettable failure.


Killing dreams

Indeed, the death sentence has been passed on the dreams of more than half a million boys and girls and their parents; and they now ask themselves what’s next?

We cannot put the blame on those who marked the exams. They are assessing the end of a faulty process. The problem is deeper, at the level of policy and design.

The pass mark of KCSE is C+, which is the minimum grade to gain access to university education. A failure rate of 89 per cent is unforgivable. How could only 11.4 per cent gain access to university? Were those exams moderated?

Our system was designed to train students to go to university, and this massive failure shows more than meets the eye.

Look at it this way. From a training perspective and practical skills, Form Four leavers are, in principle, useless to society. They have been taught biology, maths, physics, chemistry, history and geography, English and Kiswahili.


Chinese poets in France

This array of subjects makes them like Chinese poets in the middle of France. They cannot communicate with the real world; they cannot understand and make themselves understood in a market society. Their poetry, as beautiful as it may be, is useless.

This is how Form Four was designed; like Chinese in the middle of France. Form Four leavers know a lot about things that cannot help them survive without a university degree.

Form Four leavers may know how their bodies function; they can do basic calculations and they know the periodic table. But they cannot repair an automobile, fix an electric circuit, build basic structures, farm intelligently, cook or milk a cow…basically, they cannot survive with what they have learnt at school and did not learn at home.

Form Four, without university, is like the icing without the cake…it’s just empty. It is like that light at the end of the tunnel; they had been looking at it as they walked for four years, but alas, the light was an oncoming train.


Why waste time and money?

So, if school does not prepare you for life, why go to school? Why not remain at home and learn some lifesaving practical skills?

If only 11 per cent will pass the KCSE exam, why should the government waste so much of our taxes, time and resources teaching 89 per cent of the kids something futile and irrelevant for their lives?

Shouldn’t we do this national exam in Standard One and select the top 10 per cent and then send the rest to train in vocational areas and manual work?

What could have been done to get students to perform better in 2017 than in 2016, when we were all caught by surprise?

At least now we know the reality of things. Until Matiang’i came in, we thought all was well, though we knew almost everybody was cheating. Now we know that teachers are not teaching and students are not learning.


Where are the vocational colleges?

What will half a million boys and girls do with their lives after 2017? Where are the polytechnic colleges, the training centres for arts, music, dance, etc. for 550,000 students?

In 2013, the Technical and Vocational Education and Training Authority (TVETA) was created. It is a State corporation established under the Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) Act.

TVET is tasked with regulating vocational education and training "through licensing, registration and accreditation of institutions, programmes and trainers."

So far, TVET has accredited, licensed and registered 845 vocational institutions and colleges. A few are quite reputable, such as the Eastlands College of Technology, where hundreds of young Kenyans learn mechanics, plumbing, welding, wiring, electrical circuits, etc. The Nairobi Technical Institute offers courses in applied sciences, the Kenya Christian Industrial Training Institute, the Textile Training Institute, Edu-Global Training Institute, etc. also offer an impressive array of possibilities.

According to the National Bureau of Statistics, Kenya’s vocational training institutions, including our teacher-training colleges, may absorb up to 187,995 trainees.

We may ask ourselves, what will happen to the 352,433 Form Four leavers who did not make it to university and will not make it to vocational colleges? We do not have so many matatus to accommodate them, and if we did, we would still be lacking the roads for those matatus.

We cannot bury our heads in the sand. The matter is urgent. We have invested so much in infrastructure, but infrastructure without human capital is unsustainable.

We need a serious vocational training plan to populate the 47 counties with training institutions. This can’t wait for another year.