Thousands of university graduates are churned out into the shrinking job market each year, with employers expressing concerns that most are unemployable.
Research and insights from the Education Sub Saharan Africa (ESSA) show that employers are now seeking collaborations with universities and colleges in redesigning courses to meet the current job market needs.
This will ensure that the country benefits from the labour dividend coming from the youth bulge in terms of innovation, productivity and consumer market growth.
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To address this mismatch, the government has doubled its efforts in reforming the 8-4-4 education system introduced in 1985. The Ministry of Education has moved forward to introduce the Competency-Based Curriculum (CBC).
The CBC aspires to change the dynamics of an exam-oriented system to a skill-based one focusing on developing learners’ competencies and understanding core values necessary for the changing global economy.
Academicians, policymakers, and pundits do not know whether CBC will automatically create jobs and the much-needed skills sets in the changing labour market. They also wonder whether sufficient studies and stakeholder engagement have been undertaken before its rolling out.
However, without evidence-based research, education stakeholders will be like the proverbial six blind men and the elephant. Each stakeholder may be partly right, but they can all be wrong if they cannot see the full picture or suffer from preconceived notions.
During the 4th Biennial Education Evidence 4 Action Conference co-hosted by the Ministry of Education and education evidence producers from academia, government agencies, and Non-Governmental Organisations (CSOs, research institutes, and think tanks) in November 2021, a high-level panel focusing on resolving issues in CBC implementation was moderated. More than 30 papers were presented. It was evident that education stakeholders are eager to deepen the conversation on policy options in the CBC and implementation.
Short and medium-term interventions on equity and inclusion for improving learning outcomes for successful implementation of the CBC were recommended. While notable, most of the generated evidence relied on short-spanned individually administered surveys.
In contrast, in the policymaking world, Randomised Control Trials have recently been termed as the ‘gold standard’ of generating quality research for better policymaking. However, this type of research involves complete data collection. In Kenya, the lack of relevant, reliable, and comprehensive data that researchers can use to inform CBC implementation has been a limiting factor for novel studies. Consequently, it limits the adoption of an evidence-informed policy, leaving media pundits to peddle all manner of pedestrian policy recommendations.
Most rigorous evidence-based research in high-income countries and academic studies published in prestigious journals are now using administrative data.
For example, in Canada, the government and academia at the New Brunswick Institute for Research, Data and Training have partnered to provide access to data on health, social assistance, education and training, aged care, and workers compensation.
Government agencies and other public bodies provide the data sets that are considered organic because they are generated from everyday business or institutional processes and are bias-free. They can measure certain features objectively and avoid social desirability or recall biases of survey data, ensure longitudinal tracking over extended periods, and have large sample sizes that can develop new non-parametric quasi-experimental research designs.
Nevertheless, researcher access to administrative data remains challenging and idiosyncratic in low-and middle-income countries as shown in the Handbook on Using Administrative Data for Research and Evidence-based Policy.
However, the use of administrative data to inform education policy in Africa is starting to take root. Education Sub Saharan Africa (ESSA) is playing a key role in leading a consortium of education stakeholders in using administrative data to inform the recruitment, development, and retention of faculty in Ghana and the East African Community.
For the Kenyan government to cut the noise and get the CBC implementation right, the Ministry of Education should ensure easier access to and increased use of administrative data from all levels of education. This will dramatically improve the quantity and quality of available and needed evidence in this area.
Additionally, academic researchers, policymakers, and research firms can partner in developing supplemental field surveys to expand the insights from administrative data and feedback to policy/decision-making more generally.
Finally, the large volume of data will usher Kenya’s education researchers to more advanced analysis like machine learning and other inferences such as artificial intelligence for quicker and deeper insights.
[Dr Mbithi is research manager (East Africa) at Education Sub Saharan Africa (ESSA). [email protected]]