Purpose of education is to give us usable skills, not Government jobs

University students were recently stunned when the Commission of University Education (CUE) rubbished 133 university courses as ‘useless’. CUE is charged with approving all the academic programmes in local universities.

This comes after Deputy President William Ruto’s remarks, intimating that some university courses were irrelevant. While speaking at Kenya Technical Trainers College in Nairobi during the launch of a TVET Competency-Based Educational and Training framework last year, Ruto rubbished courses such as history, geography, sociology and anthropology. The deputy president wondered why someone should have a degree and end up roasting maize by the roadside.

The jury may still be out on whether or not Ruto was right in his tirade but there are two things about the way we approach education in Kenya that must be reviewed. The first is the notion Kenyans call ‘papers’. One of my uncles always advised us back in the day that in today’s world, one should ensure they have papers. “Read until you get to the sign that says no road ahead,” he would say, “until you have all the papers.”

A bachelor’s degree has become so insignificant in Kenya today since almost every graduate has a master’s degree. Many human resource managers will tell you that an advertisement for a simple clerical job at any organisation will attract a majority of candidates with master’s degrees. After all, most job adverts nowadays come with the ‘A master’s degree will be an added advantage’ tag line.

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Our quest

Some wise man once said that education is what remains after everything you were taught is forgotten. The question then becomes, what do our graduates have beyond the degree certificates they hold so dear? In our quest for papers, almost every Kenyan graduate worth his salt has a Master of Business Administration (MBA).

This leaves the question begging; is the end game of education the paper you are awarded or the skill that is imparted to you? Show me a Kenyan who has a Master of Business Administration and I will show you a Kenyan who might never have administered a business.

The MBA paper is seen by many as a means to earn a promotion or secure employment and not as a skill to start and run a business.

That is why we have graduates with engineering and business degrees working as bank tellers while Form Four dropouts are out there trying their hands on innovation and business. A Kenyan with papers would rather be employed in a white collar setting and earn Ksh50,000 a month than try out the skill he learned in school to earn Sh50,000 in two days. Stories abound in Kenya of businessmen who never set a foot in university but are running successful businesses.

The second problem picks from where the first one left. Since most Kenyans with papers shy away from entrepreneurship, our children have nowhere to learn how to run businesses. The best way to learn how to run a business is to try your hands on one and who better to teach you than family?

Not implying

The same graduate with an engineering degree and working as a bank teller will depend on his monthly salary and not try his hand on a side business. If most educated Kenyans tried their hand on entrepreneurship, we would offer our children the chance to get an education in entrepreneurship.

Walk into any university in Kenya today and you will find very few Indians and Somalis of Kenyan origin pursuing papers. However, a majority of successful businesses in Kenya are run by the selfsame Indians and Somalis. I am not implying that Indians and Somalis of Kenyan origin don’t value education.

I am only denoting that they understand the fact that nothing beats family business, not even papers. Statistics will prove that most of the successful businesses in Kenya today are family businesses. Chandaria, Bidco, Chandarana, Tuskys, Naivas, and Kenpoly you name them.

When a Kenyan with papers sends his child to a supermarket during college holidays to work as an accountant for college internship, the owner of the supermarket sends his child to manage the accountant since he owns the business.

The problem therefore seems to lie beyond the type of courses being offered in our universities. We seem to be obsessed by the desire to have the right papers that can get you employment while forgetting the fact that education is meant to give us a usable skill and not necessarily a job. Education is the key to success yet most educated Kenyans are nowhere near success.

Either we have the wrong key or the lock was changed without our knowledge. It is time we stopped worrying about what our courses are called and start worrying about what the courses can do to our calling in life.

Mr Otiato is a Communication [email protected]

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