I returned from completing my studies abroad with a crisis of confidence. I knew that Kenya was against the arts, and that I would be mocked for studying them. And I was. I got to the classroom and found no students, and was hounded that there is no “market” for our programs.
I believed it and I did try to fix it. Every weekend I was at festivals, talks, events, trying to hear what it was that the “market” wanted from arts programs and how we could provide it.
But the vitriol continued. Soon it was coming from Education CS Matiang’i himself. Followed by KEPSA. It was never enough, no matter what.
I didn’t understand this push back. Isn’t this what people wanted? A market friendly program? More students in the classroom? It didn’t make sense. I’m not sure I get it yet. But I kept trying. Until one day.
I was introduced to an official from FKE. So I asked her: I’d like to have a meeting with FKE because they say that our graduates lack skills which we do teach in the class. Can I have a meeting with you to tell you what we do and exactly what employers are looking for?
Yes. She said. Graduates don’t have the skills we need.
I understand, I replied. That’s why I’m asking for a meeting where we can explain ourselves to each other, because the skills you say we don’t teach, we actually do.
Yes. She said again. That’s why we offer a mentoring program, and we can help your students with one.
I realized she hadn’t understood what I was saying. The narrative of dysfunctional and unskilled graduates as the cause of unemployment is so strong, people cannot let it go, no matter what evidence is placed before them.
That’s why I’m responding to Julie Gichuru’s video on education.
Julie Gichuru basically says that young people are unemployed because it's their fault. They're not doing what the marketplace needs. The marketplace is heaven on earth and our young people are sinners for having gone to the university.
Only 1% of young people have had university education. The greatest percentage of the youth have not gone to secondary school. So why is there this focus on just the university graduates and not other unemployed youth?
Two, let's talk about this "perfect" marketplace. Let's start with the fact that it is very colonial and managerialist. It recycles the same managers who hop from firm to firm and deliver no results, but they get paid in the range of 4m per month. I wrote about one example, Julius Kipng'etich, who has moved from wildlife management to banks to retail, and left little to show for it. Surely, one person cannot be good in everything just because they got a finance degree.
If you carry out a survey of the boards of the top 100 companies in Kenya, you will find they are made up of the usual old boys suspects. Surely, do you expect companies driven by the same logic to employ a diverse variety of people? They can't. And we know that when it comes to government, the recycling gets worse.
The truth is, it doesn't matter whether you do a degree or go TVET. You'll do medicine but they'll bring in Cubans, or you go to TVET and they’ll bring the Chinese.
The real problem in Kenya is the so-called market; not our youth. The market is several things.
1. the market is skewed in favor of managerial jobs and pays peanuts to the people who actually add value to work and society
2. The market also operates on an inflated value of business-related jobs, and yet most of the theft and financial crises have MBAs, financiers and accountants at the heart of them
3. The Kenyan market is land-centric. The richest and most powerful people own land and real estate. There is no way they will let Kenya have an economy where you earn from knowledge, skill or labor. Only title deeds and being born in the right family earn you a living. That's why Kenya taxes books, bans movies, makes a joke of copyright and makes patenting a pipe dream. If you try to start a business, KRA and corruption will make sure that you fail. And why bother, if the Ngiritas can walk away with billions for doing nothing?
And the market is this crazy because the government's mission is to allow it. That's why Aden Duale has been busy tabling amendments to allow the market to loot Saccos and NHIF, and remove CBK's teeth so that they don't tell the banks to behave.
So young people of Kenya should not listen to this neoliberal propaganda from the rich. Unemployment is not their fault. It is the fault of those in State House, Parliament and boardrooms who play with our economy like it's a toy. What Mbuyiseni Ndlozi of EFF told Ramaphosa is as relevant to South Africa as it is to Kenya: “We don’t need a new approach to skills development. We need a new approach to developmental planning. Stop blaming people for the failure of South African capitalists….we need our own banks that will invest in young black entrepreneurs, that believe in black talent…the reason we don’t have jobs is because the people with money don’t believe in black talent. They are not funding our black people who have ideas to create jobs.”
And back to my woiyee teacher story.
This is why it absolutely upsets me to hear media people trash the work of teachers. We too are workers. Why do they want us to be on the street, for problems that we did not create?
You don't need to trash degrees to make the case for TVET. Either TVET is good on its own terms, or it's not.
One also does not need to go to university if one doesn't want to. But one must make that decision based on all round information, not on unchallenged representations of university education and assumptions about the job market, especially by someone with two degrees from a university abroad.
If you went to university, and it opened doors for you, it's not fair to tell others not to go without saying why you think your own time in university was a waste time. As Michelle Obama said, “When you’ve worked hard, and done well, and walked through that doorway of opportunity, you do not slam it shut behind you. You reach back, and you give other folks the same chances that helped you succeed.”