The Sh3.2 trillion 2019/2020 budgetary estimates recently presented by National Treasury Cabinet Secretary Henry Rotich was, instructively, anchored on the government’s ‘Big Four Agenda’ — health, housing, food security and industrialisation.
However, I am most keen on the allocation made to education — because it is the key determinant of how all other sectors perform, more so in developing countries. The Ministry of Education was allocated Sh473.3 billion — about 15 per cent of the budget.
Although, positively, more funds were allocated to programmes that support basic education and vocational training, such as the Digital Literacy programme, it beats logic for the same government to turn a blind eye to two major levels of education: Early Years Education (specifically pre-primary) and universities.
The first mistake was to constitutionally relegate ECDE to counties. Now, each county has its own way of handling this level of education. Whereas some have employed tutors, others treat them as casual labourers. It is foolhardy to expect uniformity in terms of service delivery, more so in the competency-based curriculum.
The government has now turned against universities. All of a sudden, it has realised that they are slowing down the economy and are dispensable. Whereas it talks of a 100 per cent transition policy, some seer has informed it that most of these students will end up in vocational training centres.
More funds were channelled into technical and vocational colleges, notwithstanding the low enrolment. But in recent years, mid-level colleges were thoughtlessly and hurriedly ‘upgraded’ to universities!
True, some courses have lost relevance and university management teams faltered in their decision-making, resulting in financial instability. But merging of universities is a rather simplistic idea.
One of the challenges assailing these institutions is congestion of students. We keep lamenting over “half-baked” graduates and the government frowns upon the quality of university faculty which it has equally contributed to through inadequate support.
The student-staff ratio in major universities is appalling. Cases abound where lecture halls overflow with students until some elect to abscond lessons. Further, quality assessment cannot be guaranteed. Examination irregularities reign supreme. Is it a wonder that most university graduates fail simple exams in their areas of specialisation?
The challenges of universities are not solely financial; sacking university staff will backfire.
Which country boasts of having more prisons than universities? In 2016, Kenya had 108 prisons, at least one in each of the 47 counties — yet 32 public universities and seven constituent colleges give the government sleepless nights?
If I were Prof George Magoha, the Education minister, I would advise the government to decongest bigger universities by distributing surplus students to smaller ones and then rationalise and empower faculty. That will bring back quality education as in his heyday at the helm of academia.
Alternatively, close down all of them. After all, such programmes as the Big Four can do without quality education!
Mr Osabwa is a lecturer, Alupe University College, Busia. [email protected]