The Sorry State of Education in Kenya

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I made a trip to the US; “my other home” in June this year and while I was there got to talking to some friends about the state of education in Kenya. In East Africa, Kenyans probably have the best and most opportunities when it comes to getting quality education.

We have many choices when it comes to schools, private, public, day schools, boarding schools, British education system schools, American education system schools. The array of options are daunting if not tiring. However, sometimes the choices available may also be tied to your economic status, your physical location, and sometimes your own knowledge on what is available.

My sister teaches in a British Curriculum school which offers full scholarships to talented children. So in this case if your child was say very good in music, they could study for free at the school and choose the boarding option without you paying a penny. However you’d have to know about it first right? It gets complicated very quickly…but then that’s most of life.

In the 80’s and more intensely in the 90s and early 2000, there was an obsession with studying abroad. Parents always sought a university outside Kenya for their children to do their undergraduate and graduate degrees. The option to study abroad was and still is expensive but most parents chose the option even when it meant holding a fundraiser or sending their child into the unknown to be stranded.

There are many stories of 18 year-olds who were sent to the US and UK with only one semester’s worth of fees and once they paid it they realize that they would have to find a way of surviving out there. There are also those who got full scholarships or could afford to live and study overseas and completed university and then came back to Kenya to take up lucrative jobs.

The times have changed now and parents prefer for their children to start off at a private nursery school and learn international systems all the way through college and after. The reason?

The Kenyan education curriculum leaves a lot to chance and while we have high performing, English-speaking, hard-working graduates sadly many who stick to the 8-4-4 system (Referring to the years spent in each stage of education) may not reach their full potential. What is even worse should they enroll for a Master’s degree they will get the papers but not the expertise. Why such scathing remarks? Let me give some examples.

I work at a bank and one of the new hires we got is a promising young man. When he reported he said that he had completed coursework for his Masters in Strategic Management (I am yet to wrap my mind around what this popular Master’s Degree entails) but he is yet to do his research paper.

All Masters degrees in Kenya are awarded once the candidate successfully defends their Masters research. A few weeks later the said colleague got together with another colleague in the office and called ‘a guy’ who does research for Masters students. While I was listening they bargained and got a price of Kes 20,000 (USD 200) to have someone else research for them and write the final research paper.

It did not disturb them that this was obviously a gross violation of university rules, and on consultation I discovered it is the norm. Many working-class Kenyans do not have time to research and understand what their chosen thesis is about so they hire people to do it for them.

The Universities know this but look the other way. They are more interested in the money paid by the student to the university for courses, graduation, access of certificates and other fees.

I was very disappointed when I discovered that many people who got a Masters degree in Kenya did not actually do their own research. The evidence is clear when you meet a person who is proud to have a masters degree but can barely manipulate a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet – THAT to me was a problem. Research involves so much data analysis and there is no way a Masters student cannot have command of the Microsoft Excel.

As a result of this plagiarism and lack of integrity, companies still rank an internationally educated job candidate over a locally educated job candidate. Employers do not trust the education system to churn out quality employees. Parents do not trust the 8-4-4 system to give their children what they need.

In fact, most people who can afford to, have their children study in the UK, Australia, China or the US. Sadly, Kenya churns out more and more graduates every year. The painful fact is that even some of our very own PhD candidates are sometimes questioned on whether they did their own research for their thesis.

Unless the reigns around the education system are tightened, Kenya is looking at a lot of graduates who have papers that do not translate into career skills. Most employers will still hire someone with an international education (from outside or international schools) over locally educated candidates. The government must have stricter standards for education especially at the Bachelors’, Masters and PhD level otherwise all the education that we have will be called to question.

In addition it is time to think about up-scaling our education to fit into international standards. Our education system  emphasises passing an exam more than gaining knowledge which means for many, education is about getting papers and not about getting skills to acquire more knowledge.

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