By Frankline Sunday
Your firm could be staffing wrong information and communication technology (ICT) personnel, leading to a mismatch of required skills and personnel.
At the same time, your son or daughter could have enrolled for an ICT course that doesn’t meet his or her aspired competencies.
These are part of the findings of a comparative study to establish the link between the local computing curricula, regional best practices and the skills requirements of the industry.
The study was conducted by Joseph Mungai, under the guidance of Dr Wanjiku Ng’ang’a. Both are from the University of Nairobi School of Computing and Informatics early this year.
The study reviewed undergraduate computing curricula in 45 public and private universities in the country.
It compared the local curricula with the global accepted benchmarks for the domain of computing and related programmes.
“Most employers assume that if they need to staff their ICT departments with new personnel, they can get anyone who has a computing-related degree,” observes Mungai.
However, he said there are distinctions in terms of students trained in computer science and those trained in information technology. He observed that most employers do not seem to know the difference.
“Our study sought to find out if the Computer Science and Information Technology programmes offered by our universities were distinct in their content.
Secondly, the kind of skills required by industry, and the extent to which the available programmes address these needs,” explained Mungai.
The study further sought to further determine if the churned out are in line with the needs in the industry.
According to Dr Ng’ang’a, most employers cannot distinguish between the available skill sets, leading to a mismatch in skills and personnel hired.
“The market does not know the difference between computer science and information technology,” she explains.
“There is the Bachelor of Science in computer science and the Bachelor of Science in Information Technology which some universities call Bachelors in Business Information Technology. But employers think all these are people trained to do the same thing.”
Dr Ng’ang’a said the two courses have different objectives and thus their need to train students to perform different roles. “There is a significant difference between ICT and computer science,” she said.
“Computer Science as the name suggests, is heavily grounded in the science or theory of computational applications. Its emphasis is on inventing and developing new ways of manipulating and transferring information. It is concerned with the development of tools and technologies that can be used across different sectors.”
“On the other hand, ICT is the use of computing tools and technologies to build business-specific systems,” she stated.
A computer science graduate is trained to create solutions for problems that exist while in ICT the emphasis is on deploying what has been created to derive business value for a company.
Dr Ng’ang’a said mixing up the two without considering the respective training is like hiring a doctor or a nurse on the premise that both can treat a patient. They operate in the same domain, but with clearly distinct competencies and roles.
This is not the first time that such a study has exposed a skills gap in the country’s ICT sector. In 2011, the Kenya ICT Board released the first version of the Julisha study revealing that ICT graduates trained locally lacked innovative thinking, problem solving and project management and implementation skills.
The study also revealed that one in every four companies are not satisfied with the quality of ICT professionals from educational institutions in Kenya.
Thirty per cent of the companies in Kenya admitted to contracting or planning to contract external providers to manage the skills shortages in their ICT departments, with local ICT graduates losing out of plum jobs.
The new findings come on the back of intense criticism from the corporate world accusing universities of churning out poorly-baked graduates.
Most of the universities that train students in either ICT or computer science have been found to have focus overlaps as well as content gaps in their curricula giving the enrolled students a raw deal.
“The most recognised benchmark for computing curriculum is The Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) computing curriculum, which institutions offering computer science or ICT courses should anchor their offerings,” states Dr Ng’ang’a.
However, some local universities do not base their curriculum along the ACM blue print or other recognised benchmarks, thus compromising the content of their programmes.
In addition, courses which are not well structured limit the ability of graduates to become competitive in the job market especially in the dynamic field of computing.
“We found that because there were some overlaps between ICT and CS degree programs and lack of a consistent structure, some students graduate without a specific skill set,” explains Mr. Mungai.