The hidden agenda behind Kenyans' love for schooling

Why and how do such men and women with such heavy responsibilities get time to study?  [iStockphoto]

The recent debate over suspicious academic certificates as the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) started clearing the candidates for next month’s elections left me wondering: do we love education that much in Kenya?

Is that love genuine? Let us be blunt, schooling is a big business in Kenya. What is the evidence we “love” schooling? One, it takes the biggest chunk of our budget.

But curiously, the biggest contributor to GDP is agriculture. Not so surprising because the key consumers of education are children, seen as great consumers but not economically productive; we can’t discount some child labour.

Two, the dropout rate at the university level is very low in Kenya compared with developed countries. Before the Covid-19 disruptions, most students graduated within the stipulated time.

Funding constraints and Covid-19 could have reduced the graduation rate. But traditionally and even today, education is seen as the surest path to upward mobility.

Other competitors are inheritance, sheer hard work and nepotism. Three is that graduation has been devolved - even children in kindergarten graduate in full regalia - gowns and caps.

Social media is full of updates on who graduated from where and car stickers don logos of western universities; check parking yards in affluent suburbs. Four, everyone in Kenya from CEOs to the deputy president, ministers, MPs, senators and Members of County Assemblies (MCAs) now attend part-time classes.  

It’s one of the perplexing questions of our time: why and how do such men and women with such heavy responsibilities get time to study?  

Five,  there are private schools everywhere, some with very fancy names as seen on billboards or during the release of national exam results. Their growth was slowed by Covid-19 and government funding. Many parents shifted their children to public schools, which are cheaper despite crowding.

The change to the Competency-Based Curriculum (CBC) could lead to another wave of private schools. Six, the number of agents offering paths to foreign universities has grown. I see their adverts everywhere - on buildings and online.  

This can be explained in two ways. For starters, there is a group of parents who want to take their children to universities abroad to stand out from the crowd following the rapid expansion of our universities.

They are taking advantage of our dissatisfaction with our universities and education system. Either way, it’s still good evidence that we love schooling, seeking it even beyond the borders.

Funding constraints and Covid-19 could have reduced the graduation rate. [iStockphoto]

Three forces are driving schooling in Kenya. One is population growth, which creates demand for schools. Two is unemployment, which creates demand for more schooling. We seek more certificates, and higher degrees in the hope they will “ inoculate” us against unemployment. 

The third force is status. We want to stand out from the crowd. If everyone has an undergraduate degree, go for a master’s then a PhD or even a D.Sc.  

Four is that we have few channels for heroism and recognition in Kenya. Education is one of them and is open to everyone.

Think of it, what other avenues of recognition beyond your academic certificates exist? The State honours are too few and few counties have designed such an honour system.  

The last factor explains a few paradoxes. Why are bookshops closing as education and schooling expand?

You could blame the Internet where most books and information are found. But despite going to school, we love certificates more than the journey that takes us there.  

Who loves reading, research and the thinking that goes with it. That is where fake certificates come in. 

Any economist would ask if there is a correlation between investment in education and economic growth.

It should be positive. Should our GDP growth not be hitting 10 per cent as envisaged in Vision 2030 with all schooling and money put into it thereof? 

The reason why we still are below 10 per cent is partly explained by the fact that we are big in social sciences, not science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). And after graduation, our “love” for schooling ends.

Maybe we have not identified key performance indicators in schooling beyond jobs. We are so tied to jobs that someone has suggested that funding to universities should be tied to the employability of their graduates.

But think of it, many people going for higher education are working; they are not after jobs but status.  

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