There is a discernible buzz in the education sector after President Uhuru Kenyatta nominated Prof George Magoha, former Vice-Chancellor of the University of Nairobi, to replace Amina Mohamed as Education Cabinet Secretary. This ministry is among the most complex, covering as it does the entire educational journey of young Kenyans from kindergarten to university and everything in between. The challenges at the different levels of education are so diverse it will take lots of innovation for him to succeed.
The first challenge that will face the minister is the implementation of a new curriculum for basic education, the so-called Competence-Based Education. Many education experts have opined that the roll-out was rushed and adequate preparations were not made before the pilot phase that was implemented last year and its continuation this year. Indeed, at the end of last year, many thought the then minister agreed with this point of view when she publicly declared that the system was not ready for the full implementation of the new curriculum. It is suspected that her statement may have so annoyed powerful business interests in the sector that it might have led to her transfer to the less prestigious ministry of sports.
Prof Magoha will have to dispassionately review all the available evidence like the scientist he is supposed to be, and if he determines that the system is not ready for the new curriculum, he will have to make the bold decision to suspend its continued implementation despite pressure from the publishers and others with business interests, in order to fix whatever needs to be fixed first. In doing this, the good professor must be guided by the fact that every action he takes in this regard will have far-reaching effects on the future of this country through the impact on very young and impressionable minds.
The second key challenge for the minister is the chaos in the higher education sector. Perhaps due to the difficulty in controlling professors and lecturers at our universities, government policy seems to have shifted to empowering middle-level colleges and destroying our universities. Many programmes at our universities have been dismissed by government agencies and spokespersons as ‘useless’, and funding for these citadels of learning has continued to dwindle.
It is not hyperbolic to state that all public universities are broke, and many would be declared insolvent and ordered closed if they were running as private business entities. Labour disputes have resulted in multiple strikes, affecting the progress of undergraduate and postgraduate students, and no concrete action has been taken to address these. Research is practically non-existent in our universities, and most of them have traditionally survived on tuition fees from the students they admit every year.
This crisis in university education is also linked to pedestrian decision-making and leadership not only in the universities themselves, but also in the sector regulator, the Commission for University Education. This commission has, as is the custom with incompetent commissions in this country, evaded its original mandate and instead mutated into some kind of ‘super senate’, attempting to micro-manage Kenyan universities and stifle their creativity and competitiveness in the global marketplace of ideas.
Prof Magoha must live up to his reputation and allow universities the space to nurture innovation, critical thought, and a national consciousness.
Lukoye Atwoli is Associate Professor of Psychiatry and Dean, Moi University School of Medicine; [email protected]