It is common knowledge that an education system has a significant bearing on economic performance.
A country that carefully calibrates its education system to ensure that it is dynamic enough to respond to the growing and changing needs of the society is bound to reap dividends in form of accelerated development.
In Kenya, we have on several occasions made changes to curriculum and reviewed the education system in a constant effort to attain a qualitative system that can deliver on our development objectives. We did away with the 7-6-4 system and adopted the 8-4-4 system and are rolling out another one progressively.
I won’t venture into the merits and demerits of these systems. Suffice it to say that all these reforms are fundamental in our quest for the kind of education that will provide answers to the ever-evolving societal challenges. In the quest to fix our education sector, however, we ought to pay special attention to the institutions of higher learning.
Well, a holistic quality education is indispensable. For obvious reasons, quality education must be assured, right from kindergarten to university. Yet, it is at the university, which is the apex of our education system, that we prepare students for the job market and varied social, political and economic roles.
If we get it wrong in higher education, we run the risk of putting in jeopardy all the knowledge and skills amassed at the lower levels of education. Universities, therefore, occupy a strategic and unique position that bestows on them immense responsibility. The question is whether ours are living up to the massive expectations.
Undeniably, we have made commendable strides. The number of institutions of higher learning, both private and public, has grown exponentially over the past decade. This means the opportunities for advanced education have been democratised somewhat.
Any student who aspires to satisfy their desire for knowledge has a relatively higher chance than before to do so. On this, we got to pat ourselves on the back.
However, we should be under no illusion as regards the length of the road that we need to travel and the scope of the work we ought to do before we reach ‘Canaan’, where our institutions will be teeming with research that engender world-class invention.
Happily, we have begun the journey. The high number of universities has spawned both competition and collaboration, two components essential for improved quality of education.
Competition in any market is always good as it drives innovation, leading to quality but affordable products. Conversely, monopoly breeds complacency that not only retards innovation but overpriced poor quality products and services beyond the reach of many.
Healthy competition would do to education as it does to products in the normal market. Proliferation of private universities with innovative programmes have certainly had a positive effect on public universities as they have been compelled to design ingenious courses to keep attracting students.
In the blistering race to catch the eye of the students and thus remain afloat, institutions keep raising the bar higher. The cost of degrees must also fall, lest a university or even college prices itself into oblivion. These benefits are crucial for students and the country.
While competition is the grease that lubricates the wheels of quality education to move faster and smoothly, collaboration is the pillar that underpins universities.
There exist vast areas where institutions can join hands and work for a common good. They can, for instance, come together and share ideas on how to get increased funding for their programmes. They can also speak in one voice and jointly seek solutions for the myriad economic, social and political challenges afflicting the society.
More fundamentally, they can put their heads together in research, one of the cardinal roles of any university.
The world over, collaborative research among institutions has led to breathtaking inventions. These successes can be replicated here if we set our best brains on the issue.
Granted, local institutions partner on a number of realms. Discourse on how to improve the quality of our education is always never far from our joint agenda. Various institutions have cultivated close ties related to training, such that diploma students from a college can pursue further studies in partner universities.
These are good plans but there is room to consolidate and nurture the relationships so that they yield more far-reaching and grander gains.
Prof Gicharu is the founder and chairman, Mount Kenya University. [email protected]