Nevertheless, the biggest lesson I learned from the NTV discussion is that the new curriculum was written on the basis of assumptions that the Government thought (or did not know) were not ideologically neutral. Here are some of them:
- Kenyans are jobless because they don’t have skills for the available technical jobs
- Kenyan children fail in science because they have talents in other subjects (presumably in the arts), or they fail because they are not “academically inclined”
- Kenyan education is a burden and is exam-focused because of a faulty curriculum
In this post, I discuss what is wrong with the first assumption.
FAULTY ASSUMPTION #1: Kenyans are jobless because they don’t have the skills for the available technical jobs
To understand what is wrong with this assumption, one must answer these questions:
- would having technical jobs filled resolve the unemployment problem?
- are there technical jobs available in the first place?
- why do Kenyans not have skills for those jobs?
- why are Kenyans not training for skills in technical jobs?
To answer these questions, one must take into account the following:
a) Unemployment is not only about unfilled technical positions
Unemployment is a complex problem that cannot be resolved just by training technicians. We do not even know if the jobs the business sector claims are unfilled exist, how many those jobs are, and what are the pay scales and career progression opportunities in those technical jobs.
It is also ridiculous, for example, to say that SGR and other infrastructure projects do not employ Kenyan engineers, because our engineers are not qualified, due to poor university training. We do have engineers, and it would be cheaper to fill their training gaps with apprenticeships than to hire Chinese engineers. But even then, the real issue is that funding determines who is employed to build infrastructure. China does not provide funding for infrastructure out of love for Kenya, but out of Chinese interests. If China provides funding, China will employ its own citizens and buy its own materials. It is therefore an insult for African business people to blame African educators for no African engineers building infrastructure. Whoever pays the piper calls the tune. China is paying the piper. We Africans are not calling the tune.
And the reason we are not calling the tune is that we are ruled by governments that are not accountable to the people. Government officials rig elections, siphon public resources with impunity, and when their countries’ technical professionals run to jobs abroad, they celebrate their remittances that the professionals send home. A bad economy is a political and economic problem; it cannot be solved with a curriculum.
b) No data on technical jobs
We do not have data on the kind of technical jobs that the business sector needs. Instead, the business sector and politicians issue statements blasting Kenyan universities for arts programs, but say nothing about the absorption of technical colleges into universities. If the business sector is really serious, it should release the data on the kind of technical jobs it needs to fill, on how many those positions are, and what are the pay scales for those jobs.
Kenyans are not stupid. If they know the business sector has 100,000 technical jobs, they will train for them, and colleges will offer courses in them. If the business sector and government are really serious about technical positions, let them give us the data and Kenyans will train in those sectors. But rather than fix this problem, the government has opted for a curriculum with pathways that force kids into technical jobs, and with no career prospects.
c) Managerialism and the elevation of CEOs into angelic status
Because neoliberalism says that everything in the world should be run like a business, training in finance and business has become the only qualification to run anything, from hospitals to schools to national parks. Kenyan media, and the Kenyan public, now celebrate CEOs and not innovators, media personalities and not journalists and thinkers, politicians and not professionals. An anchor can become a commentator on politics and global issues using a scanty knowledge of history and economics, just because she did well on TV. An MBA can move through top positions in KWS, Equity Bank and Uchumi, without the public asking whether one can really run wildlife conservation, banking and retail with the very same skills.
In such an environment, there is no incentive for young people to take degrees in anything other than degrees which they think will catapult them to careers in politics, media, diplomacy, banking and non-governmental organizations. Students will shun careers in professional fields, and even more in the science ones. With the new curriculum, the Government is essentially saying that it will transfer problem of professional and technical careers in the adult world to children by forcing children into career pathways based on quotas.
d) Professional prospects in Kenya
Any highly trained professional in Kenya will tell you that working as a professional in Kenya is the most frustrating enterprise. Neoliberalism has managed to convince the world, and restructure the economy in such a way, that true professionals who want to advance in their professions hit a low glass ceiling early in their careers. Professionals are forced to take orders from CEOs who are not professionals in the services their organizations offer. In turn, the CEOs, conscious that they have no knowledge of the profession they run and that their employees know more than them, become more controlling and require more paperwork from employees. The CEO can only make decisions based on money. We therefore see, for example, CEOs measure doctors’ work by the number of surgeries rather than the complexity of surgeries, or measure teachers’ work by the children’s exam results rather than how teachers help students learn and grow into confident individuals.
When this happens in education, education standards necessarily go down, because the teacher is busy trying to meet “targets” for fear of losing their job, and they no longer have the time to focus on students. As the situation deteriorates, the public is told to blame the teachers for not meeting their performance targets and the curriculum for not being up to date. There is no focus on political leadership and how it has destroyed education. That’s what’s happening with the new curriculum.
Meanwhile, celebration of exam results every year will have more and more children saying that when they grow up, they want to become CEOs.
e) Commercialization of university education
In the neoliberal age, universities no longer train graduates for the industry. Universities ARE the industry. Because their job is to make money, not to serve the public good, universities are also following market trends. If Kenyans believe that the only jobs available are in business, NGOs, government and media, Kenyan universities will offer those degrees, regardless whether the country needs those graduates are not. I always say that if more and more young men are forced to hustle by washing cars, eventually a university will offer a BSc in “vehicle sanitation.” And from the university’s senate to the Commission of University Education, everyone will approve the degree, because the market surveys will show how many men at car washes will be potential students for the degree, and how cars would look better if young car washers know how to polish cars, not just wash cars with soap and water.
As long as the measure of universities is the market and the balance sheet, not the public good, universities will have no incentive to train in expensive degrees that require investment in equipment and faculty. It is in universities’ commercial interests to train students only in social sciences, and that can only be resolved by political and educational leadership that cares about people, not profit.
But again, rather than deal with the orientation of university education, the government has chosen to force kids into technical subjects, regardless of the availability of the resources to properly learn those subjects, the students’ interests or the career prospects.