| The recent world universities’ rankings were not surprising to Kenyans. Despite the fact that we are local leaders in the production of human resources for both regional and international markets, our universities were content with the humbling tailing positions that we were able to attain. Maybe it was because our universities’ websites are rarely updated; and the authorities at the universities hardly ever respond to any email inquiries; or even the universities’ library databases are not yet uploaded on to the internet; facts that opponents of such rankings would brush aside as being inconsequential. But I would say the rankings were just an overestimation of the state of higher education in Kenya. We deserved even worse.
The roles of higher education institutions are clear. First, they should provide education and training within a structure that combines research and teaching. Second, they should offer professional training in fields such as Medicine, Engineering, Architecture, Law and Teaching. Third, these institutions should operate as research centers, responsible for carrying out research in a broad range of disciplines. Fourth, they should play a part in regional development, as well as developing international contacts, and last but not least, they should play a social function in fostering the intellectual and social development of the society.
But scholars and critics alike have never stopped blaming the system, which most of them went through, and their critiques are somewhat justified. Studies have confirmed that the nature of training provided by Kenyan public universities does not adequately prepare the higher cadre human resources that are required for development. In an editorial article in the Daily Nation (July 12 1997, P. 17), it was observed that “Education in Kenya has largely operated in isolation from the economic sector it is supposed to serve. The result has been that its products have at times been found wanting in vital skills that have hampered their absorption into the economic mainstream.”
The quality of the teaching staff is wanting. The poor state of the economy has affected the rewards of lecturers and has caused the best of these brains to go searching for better terms abroad, while those left behind only dedicate minimal time to their responsibilities as teachers at the universities. In his study “Revitalizing Financing of Higher Education in Kenya: Resource Utilization in Public Universities”, Abagi Okwach indicated that about 50% of the teaching staff at the two universities he studied, the University of Nairobi and Kenyatta University, were not working full time at the universities. Some of them were under employed.
The survey also indicated that about 40% of senior academic staff at public universities were performing part time duties in other institutions, including private universities and non-governmental organizations. These staff members were engaged in various duties that included teaching, research, evaluation of programs and running their own businesses without approval from the university administration, as is normally required. This has resulted in a situation where teaching staff devote little attention to research or improving their teaching, and play little or no role in the life of the institution employing them.
There has been rapid expansion in the higher education sector of Kenya. More people are seeking higher education from the few universities we have. This has overstretched the services of these institutions, compromising the quality of graduates in favor of quantity. It has also increased the costs of running these institutions. As a cost cutting measure, university administration often employs outmoded teaching methods. Rote learning is common, with instructors doing no more than dictating their notes to overcrowded classes. This negatively impacts students, who are frequently unable to afford a text book. They are forced to transcribe the notes into note books, and those who regurgitate a credible portion of their notes from memory, achieve exam success. These passive approaches to teaching have little value in a world where practicability, creativity and flexibility are at a premium.
The mode of teaching aside, the testing system is highly questionable. The system is not water tight against cheating and other irregularities. It also does not cover the practical aspect of learning well, as students can still pass these exams even though they may have not had any practical attachments. This has heightened “paper qualification syndrome”- the feeling of qualification for a given job by virtue of holding certificates showing that one has passed some examinations while, in essence, lacking the corresponding skills and attitude required to perform effectively in one’s duties.
The university education system is also isolated from the society. A meaningful modern education system should stimulate all aspects of human intellectual potential. It should not simply emphasize access to knowledge, but also uphold the richness of local cultures and values, supported by the valuable disciplines of the humanities and social sciences, including philosophy, literature and the arts.
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As a very creative Architecture student at the University of Nairobi, i have had lots of interests in many forms of arts. These include performing arts, writing and drawing.
I have written many articles on issues ranging from humour, politics, religion and even the most controversial topics like human rights and abortion.
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