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Overlooking Technical Colleges in Kenya may hurt our economy

There was an interesting TV panel discussion last week on Tertiary Education in Kenya that caught my ear. One panelist who heads the country's Curriculum Development Institute stated that there has been an overemphasis on the four years of university education in the current education system. The statement got me thinking that it is a discussion that needs consideration. Overemphasis of University Education In my view as a country, we have overemphasized the university part in the 8-4-4 system, that it seems the only important thing to do to complete your education is going to university. A child who does not attend university may be considered a failure. Parents too are keen on completing the cycle of education system by facilitating their children for the full twelve years. Tertiary colleges offer programs that range from certificates, diplomas to higher diplomas that range from three months to three years. Does it mean that those who have done these courses are not 8-4-4 graduates? The tragedy is the notion that these colleges are for those who do not make the cut to university. In various forums, including during the release of secondary school results, it has been stated that those who did not make the university cut off marks could join other tertiary institutions such as technical colleges and polytechnics. These institutions are left to feel as those who join them are failures and lower in the pecking order in the current dispensation. We have Tertiary institutions that include Technical colleges that are offering very crucial skills required for the progress of the country. They may even be more important than the university courses offered if we are to develop our economy faster. Unfortunately, the overemphasis on university education has led to the conversion of Technical Colleges to Universities in the last decade. This has seen a rise in the undergraduate university enrollment, but a decline in that in technical college. The enrollment as per Kenya National Bureau of Statistics for the three national polytechnics in 2012/2013 was 14,696 students compared to 18,971 students in 2007/2008. The university enrollment for undergraduate courses in public universities has risen from 85,351 students in 2007/2008 to 170,417 students in 2013/2013. I believe that there are certain things that need to happen to reverse this thinking and trends. 1. Reforms in the education sector The clean up of the high school examinations spearheaded by the Education Cabinet Secretary, Dr. Fred Matiangi, and his team is helping partly shape this by ensuring that expectations are properly set so that there is not an undue focus on the achievement of high grades with a focus on university.

My point of departure is where we box high achieers to university and the rest of technical or other tertiary institutions. The education ministry could choose to have a unified board that carries out the selection of students for courses in universities and tertiary colleges. The students can then be encouraged to either opt for university or tertiary colleges when making choices on tertiary education at high school. The proposed new system of education will give students the opportunity to start identifying skills they want to focus on earlier in high school. This hopefully will translate in the changed view on technical skills in Kenya is very necessary for the achievement of our vision 2030. 2. Mind-shift on perception of Tertiary Education It is very important that we have a mind shift as a country that the technical colleges are not second class to universities and learn from advanced economies such as Germany that have managed to have successful systems of technical training. These technical colleges are as important as universities. In fact, they attract the “A” students with interests in acquiring such skills and not the other way round. We need a change in our value system in regards to blue-collar jobs in Kenya. We need much more stories and emphasis on those that have made successful careers through the technical colleges. As a start, we should have lists that recognize and award such people. I have worked in several organizations whereby the top performers and leaders attended such institutions and you may not be able to tell the difference unless you went through their personal files. 3. Funding and Support for Technical Colleges We should ensure adequate funding and support of Technical colleges to compete as world-class institutions to the level of the likes of those in the United States of America and Germany. The government and private sector players should focus on the development of technical schools and similar colleges that will make it more attractive for students who will be joining such institutions.

Internships and private sector partnerships with industries will help develop technical skills crucial for the development of industries in Kenya. This will also help improve uptake of technical colleges courses. How else can we be able to change this perception about our Tertiary Education to make the parents, students and young KCSE graduates understand that technical colleges and other tertiary institutions can also be an option for A students?

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