Inadequate university slots a major gaffe

The great thing about our country is that we have a generally optimistic outlook on life.

Yes, there may be a few elements who believe that they are doomed to failure and that there is no sense in trying. These often resort to crime and other acts of lawlessness. But for the majority of Kenyans, ‘hard work pays’ and we are now learning to work smarter to arrive at the payoff faster.

In my view, there are certain shortfalls that are counteracting this time-tested belief that hard work pays. I fear that they could cause a shift in our mindset and values, to alternative ones that promote a get-rich-quick mentality.

This for me is reminiscent of the same tactics that were employed by major financial firms in the developed world, majorly contributing to the world economic crisis in 2008.

I am especially troubled for all the KCSE candidates who just received their results this week. I am told that out of approximately 80,000 students who passed their exams with a C+, only 30percent will be admitted to the public universities. The competition is so great that the cutoff mark is now at 63 points for boys and 61 points for girls.

Of the 70percent who cannot be absorbed by public universities, about half are sponsored into parallel programs by their parents and guardians.

So what happens to the other 30,000 students who have good grades but whose parents cannot afford university education? How do we as Kenyans keep their faith when they are accurately aware that the chances of getting into the job market diminish if they do not have a degree? How do we keep them from resorting to short-cuts in an attempt to sustain a livelihood?

It is my opinion that much more could be done by the government to ensure that the potential of these young people does not go untapped. In the same manner that the government decided to offer free primary education, I believe that if explored widely, they could come up with other solutions to meet the needs of the bright but needy students.

These young people are the future of this country, and denying them access to education, could mean curtailing our future development.

For a start, I think there should be a policy stating that the Government will do all it can to ensure that all students who qualify for entry into the university get admitted into some sort of tertiary institution to pursue higher education.

Secondly, I feel that parallel degrees do not get the recognition they deserve. I strongly feel that the students attached to the programs make up a huge part of the human capital that drives this economy. There is no one particular disadvantage that can be attributed to their parallel degrees.

When it comes to work, all students must learn the ropes in the same manner. Why then shouldn’t we acknowledge that their role is just as critical in our economy? Having said so, I feel that parallel degrees should be mainstreamed in an effort to increase placement opportunities.

Let us acknowledge that most students who enrol in the parallel courses have just as much desire to succeed in life. We should not dole out unequal punishment just because they did not make the cut-off mark. In addition, to cater for the poor students, the government should also consider giving subsidies or scholarships in the parallel programmes to eliminate some of the inequalities that exist between the rich and the poor.

Most importantly, I feel that after 16 years of education, we ought to make a more concerted effort to churn out graduates that can actually add value in the workplace. The three-month attachment that is a pre-requisite for graduation is not realistically adequate for teaching work-place skills. Even the experienced employee, who transitions from one job to another, goes through a two to three-month learning curve.

Most graduates often feel incapable of dealing with work-place challenges at the start of their employment because they have no actual management skills. My final suggestion, to enable them to excel in the workplace, is to make some sort of six-month course available at a “Finishing College” that equips them with all the requisite basic skills e.g. what work expectations are, how to deal with a boss, grooming, etiquette, report writing etc. This will ensure that they are more productive when they finally join the work place.

I know that this is not much, and perhaps there are better and more advanced options being explored by the Ministry of Education. However, my take is that we must at all costs ensure that our young people never lose hope, especially when they have taken education so seriously.

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