It was in 2013 when my friend received an admission letter inviting him to pursue a degree in Industrial Chemistry in one of Kenya’s public universities. Whereas he was proud that he had done well in his Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education (KCSE) examinations- a performance that secured him a slot in a public university and a science course obviously highly regarded by his family, he knew that was not his path. But left with no choice and for the fear of disappointing his family and turning down the offer, he accepted the admission, placing him in the 2013/2014 Industrial Chemistry class.
Despite being aware that it was not his preferred course, he soldiered on to fulfill a dream that was not his own. Sadly, his decision was short-lived. His grades were dwindling faster than he had ever imagined.
By the end of the first year, there was nothing to salvage. He was not cleared for his second year. He was given two choices- to either retake his examinations or change the course of which he chose the latter. He wanted to take a course in Business Administration, unfortunately, the campus didn’t specialize in business courses forcing him to hunt for a slot in a different university.
My friend’s case is one of the many I have observed in my three years in campus. A notable number of students drop their first courses mostly in second or third year over various reasons – the main one being pursuing courses they cannot hack or are disinterested in leading to poor grades. This also happens when students pursue certain courses for prestige or because their parents or guardians deem them as appropriate without considering the student’s competence and interest.
Apart from the huge financial burden placed on their guardians, affected students suffer emotional trauma due to unplanned change of courses exacerbated by regrets of such mistakes. While some of them – like my friend- recover from it and are willing to still pursue their dream courses, there are those who can no longer cope with the stress and decide to abandon their higher studies in entirety. Others are ready to go to whatever lengths, including bribing or cheating in exams for the sake of completing their courses or completing their courses for the sake of a degree certificate.
To avoid these inconveniences, time wastage and unnecessary expenses, it is important for students to be prepared and guided on career choices to help them make informed decisions on the path to pursue in institutions of higher learning.
Year in year out, top candidates mention medicine, engineering or law as some of the courses they wish to pursue in campus. But if we were to track this, do they all graduate or do we have those who change their courses or even dropout of campus?
Truth is, we need an education system that fully prepares students with the needs of the 21st century. It’s time we train them to start making decisions while looking at the bigger picture. A career where there is possible absorption in the job market in the near future maybe shouldn’t be so wise to pursue at the moment. Technology is advancing by the day and with it comes automation. It is only right for employers to cut costs on labor and use machines which are less costly and more efficient. This makes it imperative to help our students at an early stage to select their courses wisely and from a point of information as opposed to moving with the wave.
In 2019, the government through the Commission for University Education scrapped off over 100 courses that were termed “uneconomical and unnecessary” in an effort to reduce duplication of courses and a multiplication of graduates who remain unemployed as their place in organizations is still undefined. It is in the same spirit, Ali Yusuf and George Kiti, two second year linguistics students at Moi University have taken the initiative to bridge the gap by closely following on the Kenya Universities and Colleges Central Placement Service (KUCCPS) updates and answers to some frequently asked questions then shares with the candidates through WhatsApp groups that are restricted to the incoming first years countrywide. To them, the idea of mentoring the young adults is necessary and the assumption that they are adults and can make stable decisions without a guide, is where the society has failed them.
Stories on graduates taking to the streets with placards seeking for jobs no longer surprise us. Employers have come out to explain why this happens. Focusing so much on the classwork will give students an admirable transcript but that doesn’t guarantee they will survive in the actual world. While at school, students should be encouraged to acquire the necessary social skills that enhance good relations with people. They should be prompted to improve their communication skills, embrace teamwork, be tech savvy and overall adapt good values anchored on ethics to guide them shape their character from an early stage.
Career choice should not be dependent on what students scored, what their parents and teachers want them to pursue, or the money they will earn in their careers if they pursue certain courses.
Course choices should be meaningfully thought through to hone practical and professional skills and knowledge to fully equip the student and make them fully baked for their careers that will be pegged on values and tenets of ethics.
Lilian Mwangi is a third-year student at Moi University and a mentee of the International Association of Women in Radio and Television