By Mathew Ndolo Omogo
An Imara Fellow Contribution
Kenya is perceived as the economic power house of the East African region (EAC). This is attributably due to diversification of the economy and a relatively faster industrialization rate in sectors such as banking and finance, insurance, cooperative societies, and telecommunication, transport, and tourism sectors. However, this growth does not meet the country’s potential and from a realistic perspective, the country has capacity to perform way better and so could develop much faster. This slow economic growth is attributable to many graduates lacking in necessary skills required in the industry, and importantly lack of integrity and national values and ethos to safeguard governance of both public and private entities for faster economic growth.
Since independence, Kenya has made tremendous progress in terms of producing scholars, specialists, and think tanks in various capacities to help stir economic development. However, such problems as mega corruption by the political and economic elites, negative ethnicity, and bad political culture based on patronage and ethnic cleavages, ignorance whereby citizens are subjects instead of being participants in matters governance, lack of accountability in governance, bulging youth unemployment, poverty and diseases in general, are attributable to poor quality of education and does promote economic inequality and marginalization thus crippling the country’s economy.
After a deeper scrutiny of the problems at hand and the existing policy directions aimed at solving them and having noted how slow and ineffective such policies are, this policy brief is aimed at giving a sustainable roadmap for enhancing socio-economic development through facilitating quality education and high human resource skills of Kenyans. Core tenet of the policy options discussed herein is, the need to invest more on quality education to build ethical human capital with industrious, innovative skills, expertise and right national ethos, which will promote economic development and social transformation of Kenya into a developed state by 2030.
Kenya boasts of one of the highest citizen literacy levels in Africa. However, this is not reflected in the quality of manpower, industriousness of the citizenry, content of character, and national ethos that should drive the country as a knowledge based economy. Consequently, there has been a deeply entrenched culture of corruption in its various forms as the society has embraced instant gratifications and shortcuts to wealth creation which has eroded values such as smart work, integrity, and innovativeness for personal growth and development. Surprisingly, the then national vices such as patronage, corruption, nepotism, drugs, prostitution, fraudster and gambling are fast being embraced by both the elites and the common citizenry, especially the youths. All these negatively work against the projected plan of realizing socio-economic development in the vision 2030 and the UN’s sustainable development goals (SDGs). Hence, a serious need for a holistic policy direction and approach to provision of quality education which delivers relevant 21st century industry skills. This can best be achieved by investing in holistic, productive and value driven human capital through provision of quality education by the government and emphasizing on the need for national ethos that guide conduct of both the public and private sectors of the economy.
The root cause of the existing problem of lack of cultured human capital can be traced back to independence when the founding fathers of the country identified poverty, ignorance, and disease as the primary threats to socio-economic development. Even so they did little to help address these problems in good faith. Instead, the political elites in the government continued with the colonial agenda of looting public resources such as lands and government infrastructure thus widening the gap between the rich and the poor. Conversely, the successive governments working in tandem with the international community (UN Agencies) have jointly strived to eradicate the challenges of poverty, ignorance and diseases with very minimal results. Save for the tangible success in reduction of ignorance evidenced in the high literacy levels in the country.
However, it is interesting to note that literacy levels is inversely proportional to quality of education offered. Worse even, there is a mismatch in the levels of quality education given to the people from the affluent upper class of the society and those in the lower classes. The political and economic elites use foreign education systems and curriculums while the commoners use the normal Kenyan 8-4-4 system with less government investment in educational infrastructure to support quality in the public schools. Again, the education system is not supported by ethics and national values to promote national cohesion and fight vices such as corruption and discrimination.
Also, there is a serious problem of less emphasis on the critical role played by teachers in the Kenyan education system. As a matter of fact, the qualification requirement for the teaching profession is low at both college and university levels as compared to other disciplines. Thus the remuneration of the teachers is very low and Structural Adjustment Programmes (SAPs) also ensured that government reduced the benefits and support for teacher motivation. Consequently, the public schools which accommodate most of the teachers and where majority of the low income earning citizens study, furthers the inequality by ensuring provision of low quality education to the masses. This arguably is by design to continue keeping the masses as subjects by offering them just minimum literacy levels so as to work for the political and the economic elites.
It is equally critical to note that the historical injustices and economic marginalization of certain communities and groups from the adverse climatic conditions, has been a catalyst to the problem of lack of cultured and value-based human capital to stimulate equitable economic growth and development of the country. Besides, the neoliberal economic policies which introduced SAPs by the IMF and World Bank, liberalizing and commercializing of education sector, and the millennial development goals (MDGs) jointly contributed to massification of access to education while watering down its quality at all levels in almost an equal measure. Government withdrew subsidies to education, making it expensive and only affordable to the few middle and upper classes of the society. Conversely, there mushroomed the private profit-driven educational centers at primary, secondary, and tertiary levels which essentially continued the inequality while derailing quality of education in the country.
Moreover, corruption, lack of national values and ethos, negative ethnic based politics and greed by the political and economic elites have all contributed to the country’s lack of quality human capital. Ethnic politics has been used over and again by shrewd politician to hoodwink the unsuspecting citizens into believing that they are fighting for their communal interests. This is unfortunately not the case always. Corruption and organized economic crimes have also been tearing apart the national values and ethos that are enshrined in the 2010 constitution, hence slow economic growth and development. As much as people would want to emphasize the need for diligence in work, the morally loose societal norms, especially corruption that has penetrated right into education sector remains an Achilles’ heel.
These challenges have crippled all the socio-economic sectors of Kenyan economy. The education system has helped a little in developing an industrious, skilled and innovative human capital that is responsive to the 21st century corporate needs. So ignorance, poverty and diseases are still here with us in 2018. In fact, they contribute to the continued patronage and subject political culture since most of the citizens are too poor to objectively elect leaders based on values.
Prevailing Policy Options for Enhancing Human Capital for Sustained Devolution and Economic Development
The government through Ministry of Education, Science and Technology and the Kenya Institute of Curriculum Development have jointly been working on changing the education system from 8-4-4 to 2-6-6-3. This is with the aim of adopting a cultured and skills based education system that is holistic and flexible in appreciating the pertinent role of extracurricular sports and talents in the country.
The new system also heavily emphasizes the need for the STEM courses (science, technology, engineering and mathematics), as well as the social sciences. This is a move in the right direction as it will help stimulate industrialization of the country while promoting sound and evidence based policies of governance, ethical commerce and industrialization by embracing of national ethos.
Another policy in place which is aimed at improving the quality of human capital in the country is the requirement of degrees and post-graduate degrees for employment in both public and private sectors of the economy. This has increased demand for undergraduate diplomas, the post-graduate and doctorate degrees in the country. Consequently, the education system has been commercialized whereby people buy the post-graduate degrees and even pay private researchers to do for them doctorate dissertations in the name of fighting for up word mobility in the labour market. This is a serious threat to quality of education of grandaunts released in the job market.
Finally, the government through ministry of education has introduced digitization of education right from the primary to transform the country into a digital knowledge based economy by 2030. This is a timely move with the increasing technological advancements witnessed world over. However, this dream is futile without government investment in the infrastructure such as building modern permanent classrooms for children, providing affordable electricity, enough computers, training and employing more teachers at all levels to help train the pupils and students on digital literacy. For this to succeed, the government must create a strong foundation of private public partnership (PPP) with the private sector to help invest in developing infrastructure for digitization of education system and the Kenyan economy. With prioritized investment in education support infrastructure, the quality of education will be boosted in the country.
Kenya has a great potential of taking off as strong economy even before 2030 if only concerted efforts are made by the government, the private sector and the citizenry to create highly productive human capital. With the high population of literate people in the middle and low class, right investment in modern educational infrastructure, tight policy on academic integrity, full support of the new curriculum, and goodwill from the political elites to promote equitable economic development, it is possible to build highly skilled human capital and hence reduce youth unemployment and bridge the inequality gap prevailing in the country.
Primarily, the government through the ministry of education should bring back value to education by overhauling the structure of the system. In the new 2-6-6-3 curriculum, the government should invest first and foremost in the teachers, tutors, lecturers and trainers in the education sector. The teaching profession must be given due respect and maximum motivation since lives of Kenya’s future generations entirely lie with the teachers and lecturers. As such, qualification requirements for primary and secondary teachers, tutors of colleges, and lecturers of universities should be raised so as to get the best brains who can be entrusted with the lives of Kenyan children.
Secondly, teachers’ welfare must be given a top priority by increasing of their salaries and allowances. The Teachers Service Commission (TAC), Ministry of education and the Commission for University education (CUE) should work hand in hand to ensure that all professionals in the education sector in the country are given commensurate remuneration. If corruption is reduced and the government prioritizes education as a pillar of unlocking socio-economic development of the country, then more money should be allocated to the education sector.
Thirdly, for quality to be successfully realized, government should introduce performance contract to ensure the teachers deliver quality time and education to the learners. However, it is only fair to ensure strict performance contract adherence by the teachers when their welfare is taken care of. Thus, funding for education has to be a priority for the government.
Moreover, the government must subsidize the cost of acquiring education in terms of paying for tuition fees, books and computers for the students and pupils in the schools. This will ensure more students complete their education and hence, zero or minimized drop outs at various levels of education in the country. Also, subsidy should go to power supply, building of infrastructure in schools, government investing in internet for the secondary school to boost adoption of technology, and sponsoring of the winners of national secondary school science fair competitions to scale their projects into businesses which can help solve the challenges facing the country.
There is even a greater need to introduce experiential learning/ tacit learning in our schools. This is by having more practical and hands on activities in the syllabus at all the learning levels. This will make students more practical and creative as they will be engaged in solving problems and finding solutions to real life challenges. The experiential/ tacit learning (knowledge) is superior to theoretical knowledge. Thus should be emphasized to ensure students are able to apply their skills and acquired knowledge in solving real time societal and industry problems.
Besides, the new education system should focus on teaching and imparting of knowledge about the national values that have long been eroded by the negative nature of politics in the country. As such, in the new curriculum, political elites, and citizens should embody national values such as tolerance, respect to the rule of law, patriotism, hard work, integrity, honesty, the harambee spirit and peaceful coexistence of the Kenyan people together. This will develop a strong culture of patriotism and citizens will deeply inculcate the spirit of self-respect in their systems so as to help fight corruption and bad governance among the political and economic elites.
Finally, the government must invest in research in higher education by increasing funding for research. Research is the backbone of economic development as it helps give evidence based policy direction for socio-economic development. Strict laws should also be made for students of post-graduate and doctorate to engage in cross-cutting research in their respective fields of specialization and this research should be localized to help provide solutions to the local as well as global problems. This will lead to increased job opportunities in the independent research institutions as well as the universities. Also, quality of graduates will be by and large increased to respond to the industry needs and hence boost the economic performance and sound policy making by the political and economic elites in the country.
Thus I strongly recommend that the minister of education together with all stakeholders in the education sector in the country should put concerted efforts in ensuring implementation of these policies to help build an industrious and value-oriented and ethical human capital for the country by investing more in the education sector.
The benefits of investing in human capital are evident in the nature of manpower and the resultant faster rate of economic growth that will be experienced in the country. Besides, with highly industrialized citizenry, Kenya will continue having competitive advantage in Africa and world over in terms of industrialization and production of problem solvers to the various world challenges.
Also, citizens with strong morals and national ethos will help in the fight against negative vices such as corruption, negative ethnicity, divisive politics, and greed. These factors are responsible for the socio-economic inequalities and economic marginalization of some parts of the country even under the devolved system of governance. Importantly, with quality education, citizens will become participants in governance and decision making processes, understand how the government operates better demand access to information from the government, and own various government projects.
With quality education that focuses on both academic excellence, creativity, and national ethos, we shall produce ethical leaders who will have the country’s interests at heart. Such leaders will inspire good governance, unity of purpose in the country and sustainable utilization of the vast economic and human capital that we have as a country.