Can coding schools seal gaps in computer science degrees?
In 2013, at the height of Kenya’s app-economy, the University of Nairobi School of Computing and Informatics conducted a study. The school sought to evaluate the link between local computing curricula, regional best practices and the skills requirements of the industry.
At the time, universities were scrambling to offer computer science degrees to take advantage of the increasing centrality of technology in the economy.
The study reviewed undergraduate computing curricula in 45 public and private universities in the country, comparing their curricula with global accepted benchmarks for computing and related programmes.
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One of the key findings indicated that many universities did not offer distinct curricula, and in a good number of institutions, the information had been overtaken by industry developments.
Bitange Ndemo, an associate professor at University of Nairobi’s School of Business and a former Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Information and Technology, said universities are yet to balance this mismatch and align the teaching curriculum to the needs of a digital world.
“My big fight with universities in Kenya is we are behaving as if we are still in the industrial era and disruption is not happening,” he said.
Dr Ndemo was speaking at the Cisco Connect Kenya 2017 summit recently held in Nairobi, where participants drawn from the country’s business and IT sector discussed the various digital disruptions looming in several industries.
“Universities have remained what they were in the 60s and are yet to buy into the digital economy, and this limits the development of research that can add value to the sector,” he added.
Aside from causing a skills mismatch in the industry, this also generates a large pool of graduates who find it difficult to grow and sustain IT start-ups.
Audrey Cheng, 23, is the co-founder of Moringa School, a coding school that uses a hybrid model to bridge the gap between technical IT training and current industry needs.
The school was set up in 2014 along Nairobi’s Ngong Road. When we met with Ms Cheng, workers were clearing space for the school’s new wing that is set to be unveiled this month and double capacity.
Cheng said the use of a carefully crafted curriculum on various coding languages crucial for professionals in the IT industry gives students a higher chance of securing a job, while also providing employers with the right-skilled personnel.
“Students can choose from one of either two modules,” said Cheng.
“Moringa Prep is an introduction to programming where beginners learn the fundamentals of programming, or for more established developers who are looking to sharpen their base of front-end skills.”
No coding experience is required for students to sign up for this four-week module. However, it is a prerequisite for students intending to take on the second module, Moringa Core, a 15-week full-time course that includes a four-week group project.
Students can choose to attend class in either full or part-time sessions, with fees for the Prep and Core modules starting from Sh40,000 and Sh140,000, respectively, for East African students.
International students pay double this amount for both modules.
Moringa insists that having a closer link to employers and having a curriculum that is regularly updated means that students have a higher chance of landing a job once they leave the coding school.
“Our graduates from Prep have a job placement of 95 per cent, and we have them in big local and international firms like Safaricom and Ushahidi,” said Cheng.
“Employers also love our graduates because they do not have much hand-holding to do or use additional resources to re-train them.”
With the increased pace of digital development, coding schools have grown in popularity across the world.
According to Course Report, a platform that keeps track of coding schools, the number of students graduating from these institutions in the US alone grew from 2,000 in 2013 to 17,977 last year.
In comparison, a total of 61,408 students graduated from computer science courses from accredited US universities in 2015.
However, there have been criticisms raised over the efficacy of coding schools to train fully fledged programmers over a short period of time.
An investigative report by Bloomberg found that some coding schools exaggerated their claims and did not offer all the courses that were advertised.
One school advertised a 95 per cent hiring rate within two months of graduation, but on scrutiny, it was found that only 57 of 70 graduates had reported employment and salary information.
Further, some employers are wary of graduates whose mode of instruction has been a few weeks of programming.
Another study on 1,143 graduates of coding bootcamps in the US found that more than a quarter were not employed in a full-time coding job, only half the respondents had a job within 60 days and one-third still did not have a job within the first three months.
“There are several aspects that contribute to the learning experience, and practical application is just one of them,” said Kimani Theuri, an instructor at a Nairobi-based college.
“Some elements of team work, business skills and strategic communication can only be imparted in a comprehensive school-based programme that runs for longer than a few weeks.”
Still, the rapid development of Kenya’s telecommunications sector over the last decade has highlighted the rate and nature of disruption in our daily lives.
The country’s higher education sector is set to follow a similar trend as Internet connectivity spreads to unconnected areas and digital learning resources become more accessible.
This will require educational stakeholders to work together with universities and new service providers like Moringa School to ensure that students attain the skills and knowledge appropriate for future career requirements.
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