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Why educational reforms are overdue

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By BITANGE NDEMO
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The ultimate aim of any education system is to equip children with the numeracy, literacy and wider skills that they need to realize their potential, and that their countries need to generate jobs, innovation and economic growth.

These were words of Kevin Watkins in his January 16, 2013 article titled, Too Little Access, Not Enough Learning: Africa’s Twin Deficit in Education, published by Brookings Institute.

Overcrowded classrooms, lack of textbooks, teacher absenteeism and antiquated pedagogical methods that emphasise rote learning are denying students access to education and learning.

New research shows that the much-heralded free learning may be the Achilles’ heel of our education.

A 2014 study, An Investigation on Impact of Free Primary Education on Quality of Education in Kenya Primary Schools, published in the Journal of Education and Practice, by Wilfred Njeru, Moses Muiruri, George Njeru, and Ruth Thinguri, revealed that whilst enrollment had gone up, the teacher student ratio and access to textbooks still was wanting several years after the implementation of the programme.

Since 2008, there is much we now know that explains why more reforms are necessary. These reforms must start early on in education as Watkins noted in his study:

The early childhood years set many of Africa’s children on a course for failure in education. There is compelling international evidence that preschool malnutrition has profoundly damaging – and largely irreversible – consequences for the language, memory and motor skills that make effective learning possible and last throughout youth and adulthood. This year, 40 percent of Africa’s children will reach primary school-age having had their education opportunities blighted by hunger. Some two-thirds of the region’s preschool children suffer from anemia – another source of reduced learning achievement.

In 1980 President Moi introduced what became to be known as Nyayo School milk program. This forward-looking policy that was fully funded by the government helped many children not only to escape stunting but also gave them a chance to cope with learning.

Research, including that by Watkins, now confirms that even though Kenya experiences similar problems as other African countries, it is better off with very few (less than 10 percent) learners who fall below the learning threshold when compared to other African countries with more than 50 percent of learners falling below the learning threshold. 

This small gap is indeed large in absolute terms and the reason why we need reforms urgently to make the country competitive.

Although we know that the early childhood education is most critical in the learning life, we appear to pay no serious attention to this critical stage. 

Teachers at this level do not have the required training. Their teaching approach is largely by rote learning often through songs that have no meaning in life. 

In most countries, early childhood (before age eight) education is provided by teachers with degrees in early childhood education and who understand how to develop a creative mind.

Experts say that this is the period when the brains of children develop faster than at any other point in their lives, urging that these years are critical.

They emphasise that the foundations for social skills, self-esteem, perception of the world and moral outlook are established during these years, as well as the development of cognitive skills.

In secondary school, although the government claimed in 2017 that transition from primary had hit 100 percent, the picture is different.

Depending on who you believe, the transition rate from primary to secondary school is anywhere between 85 and 90 percent. 

This is because free education in secondary school is not free as claimed.  Far too many students lack even the basic fees required.

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This unremarked want compromises good students admitted to high cost public schools who are forced to transfer to rural day schools that parents can afford. Effectively, the system inadvertently encourages social exclusion by design.

The existing policies are blind to the fact that those with passing grades are mainly the privileged few in mostly urban schools.

Rural schools that lack the necessary infrastructure, teachers and supervision languish in the darkness of desolation. The few scholarships available do not even begin to scratch the surface in terms of the huge need for assistance.

Transition to University/Tertiary nosedives to less than 20 percent. This year, only 14 percent will see the door of university and perhaps another 5 percent will join tertiary institutions, as there is considerable lack of space, many of these institutions having been converted into universities.

While at the Ministry of Information and Communications, I attempted to change the then College of Communications, Mbagathi, into a University of Applied Sciences offering both Diploma and degree courses but focused on application (How to do it). 

Someone at the Attorney General’s Office did not like the idea and simply changed the enabling legislation to read as University.

My attempt to influence the philosophy of the institution with partnerships of the Koran Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST) and become more aligned to applied education failed. 

The administrators sent to the University assumed that it was meant to become a traditional university.

What I was attempting to do 10 years ago was reaffirmed by Tim Cook, Apple Chief Executive Officer, last week. 

He said, “There’s a confusion about China. The popular conception is that companies come to China because of low labour cost. I’m not sure what part of China they go to but the truth is China stopped being the low labour cost country many years ago. And that is not the reason to come to China from a supply point of view. The reason is because of the skill, and the quantity of skill in one location and the type of skill it is.”

My reform proposal for the year 2019 is to see that all Universities in Kenya that were created as technology centers, including the Technical University of Kenya, Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology, Technical University of Mombasa, Jaramogi Oginga Odinga University of Science and Technology, Egerton University, Masinde Muliro University of Science and Technology, and Meru University of Science and Technology, being converted to Universities of Applied Science and Technology immediately to admit both degree, diploma and certificate students where such students can learn how to do things and build capacity that will attract investments.

Our mission should be to become a global source of skills just like China did and India is doing at the moment. 

We must pay attention to what the customer wants by reading in between the lines of what Cook emphasised, “China has moved into very advanced manufacturing, so you find in China the intersection of craftsman kind of skill, and sophisticated robotics and the computer science world. That intersection, which is very rare to find anywhere, that kind of skill, is very important to our business because of the precision and quality level that we like. The thing that most people focus on if they’re a foreigner coming to China is the size of the market, and obviously it’s the biggest market in the world in so many areas. But for us, the number one attraction is the quality of the people.”

We have a huge untapped resource in young people.  Let’s wake in 2019 to do what is necessary by shifting the population from a disastrous future to a potential population dividend.

The writer is an associate professor at University of Nairobi’s School of Business.



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Public officers above 58 years and with pre-existing conditions told to work from home: The Standard

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Head of Public Service Joseph Kinyua. [File, Standard]
In a document from Head of Public Service, Joseph Kinyua new measure have been outlined to curb the bulging spread of covid-19. Public officers with underlying health conditions and those who are over 58 years -a group that experts have classified as most vulnerable to the virus will be required to execute their duties from home.

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However, the new rule excluded personnel in the security sector and other critical and essential services.
“All State and public officers with pre-existing medical conditions and/or aged 58 years and above serving in CSG5 (job group ‘S’) and below or their equivalents should forthwith work from home,” read the document,” read the document.
To ensure that those working from home deliver, the Public Service directs that there be clear assignments and targets tasked for the period designated and a clear reporting line to monitor and review work done.
SEE ALSO: Thinking inside the cardboard box for post-lockdown work stations
Others measures outlined in the document include the provision of personal protective equipment to staff, provision of sanitizers and access to washing facilities fitted with soap and water, temperature checks for all staff and clients entering public offices regular fumigation of office premises and vehicles and minimizing of visitors except by prior appointments.
Officers who contract the virus and come back to work after quarantine or isolation period will be required to follow specific directives such as obtaining clearance from the isolation facility certified by the designated persons indicating that the public officer is free and safe from Covid-19. The officer will also be required to stay away from duty station for a period of seven days after the date of medical certification.
“The period a public officer spends in quarantine or isolation due to Covid-19, shall be treated as sick leave and shall be subject to the Provisions of the Human Resource Policy and procedures Manual for the Public Service(May,2016),” read the document.
The service has also made discrimination and stigmatization an offence and has guaranteed those affected with the virus to receive adequate access to mental health and psychosocial supported offered by the government.
The new directives targeting the Public Services come at a time when Kenyans have increasingly shown lack of strict observance of the issued guidelines even as the number of positive Covid-19 cases skyrocket to 13,771 and leaving 238 dead as of today.
SEE ALSO: Working from home could be blessing in disguise for persons with disabilities
Principal Secretaries/ Accounting Officers will be personally responsible for effective enforcement and compliance of the current guidelines and any future directives issued to mitigate the spread of Covid-19.

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Uhuru convenes summit to review rising Covid-19 cases: The Standard

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President Uhuru Kenyatta (pictured) will on Friday, July 24, meet governors following the ballooning Covid-19 infections in recent days.
The session will among other things review the efficacy of the containment measures in place and review the impact of the phased easing of the restrictions, State House said in a statement.
This story is being updated.
SEE ALSO: Sakaja resigns from Covid-19 Senate committee, in court tomorrow

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Drastic life changes affecting mental health

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Kenya has been ranked 6th among African countries with the highest cases of depression, this has triggered anxiety by the World Health Organization (WHO), with 1.9 million people suffering from a form of mental conditions such as depression, substance abuse.

KBC Radio_KICD Timetable

Globally, one in four people is affected by mental or neurological disorders at some point in their lives, this is according to the WHO.

Currently, around 450 million people suffer from such conditions, placing mental disorders among the leading causes of ill-health and disability worldwide.

The pandemic has also been known to cause significant distress, mostly affecting the state of one’s mental well-being.

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With the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic attributed to the novel Coronavirus disease, millions have been affected globally with over 14 million infections and half a million deaths as to date. This has brought about uncertainty coupled with difficult situations, including job loss and the risk of contracting the deadly virus.

In Kenya the first Coronavirus case was reported in Nairobi by the Ministry of Health on the 12th March 2020.  It was not until the government put in place precautionary measures including a curfew and lockdown (the latter having being lifted) due to an increase in the number of infections that people began feeling its effect both economically and socially.

A study by Dr. Habil Otanga,  a Lecturer at the University of Nairobi, Department of Psychology says  that such measures can in turn lead to surge in mental related illnesses including depression, feelings of confusion, anger and fear, and even substance abuse. It also brings with it a sense of boredom, loneliness, anger, isolation and frustration. In the post-quarantine/isolation period, loss of employment due to the depressed economy and the stigma around the disease are also likely to lead to mental health problems.

The Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) states that at least 300,000 Kenyans have lost their jobs due to the Coronavirus pandemic between the period of January and March this year.

KNBC noted that the number of employed Kenyans plunged to 17.8 million as of March from 18.1 million people as compared to last year in December. The Report states that the unemployment rate in Kenya stands at 13.7 per cent as of March this year while it stood 12.4 per cent in December 2019.

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Mama T (not her real name) is among millions of Kenyans who have been affected by containment measures put in place to curb the spread of the virus, either by losing their source of income or having to work under tough guidelines put in place by the MOH.

As young mother and an event organizer, she has found it hard to explain to her children why they cannot go to school or socialize freely with their peers as before.

“Sometimes it gets difficult as they do not understand what is happening due to their age, this at times becomes hard on me as they often think I am punishing them,”

Her contract was put on hold as no event or public gatherings can take place due to the pandemic. This has brought other challenges along with it, as she has to find means of fending for her family expenditures that including rent and food.

“I often wake up in the middle of the night with worries about my next move as the pandemic does not exhibit any signs of easing up,” she says. She adds that she has been forced to sort for manual jobs to keep her family afloat.

Ms. Mary Wahome, a Counseling Psychologist and Programs Director at ‘The Reason to Hope,’ in Karen, Nairobi says that such kind of drastic life changes have an adverse effect on one’s mental status including their family members and if not addressed early can lead to depression among other issues.

“We have had cases of people indulging in substance abuse to deal with the uncertainty and stress brought about by the pandemic, this in turn leads to dependence and also domestic abuse,”

Sam Njoroge , a waiter at a local hotel in Kiambu, has found himself indulging in substance abuse due to challenges he is facing after the hotel he was working in was closed down as it has not yet met the standards required by the MOH to open.

“My day starts at 6am where I go to a local pub, here I can get a drink for as little as Sh30, It makes me suppress the frustration I feel.” he says.

Sam is among the many who have found themselves in the same predicament and resulted to substance abuse finding ways to beat strict measures put in place by the government on the sale of alcohol so as to cope.

Mary says, situations like Sam’s are dangerous and if not addressed early can lead to serious complications, including addiction and dependency, violent behavior and also early death due to health complications.

She has, however, lauded the government for encouraging mental wellness and also launching the Psychological First Aid (PFA) guide in the wake of the virus putting emphasis on the three action principal of look, listen and link. “When we follow this it will be easy to identify an individual in distress and also offer assistance”.

Mary has urged anyone feeling the weight of the virus taking a toll on them not to hesitate but look for someone to talk to.

“You should not only seek help from a specialist but also talk to a friend, let them know what you are undergoing and how you feel, this will help ease their emotional stress and also find ways of dealing with the situation they are facing,” She added

Mary continued to stress on the need to perform frequent body exercises as a form of stress relief, reading and also taking advantage of this unfortunate COVID-19 period to engage in hobbies and talent development.

“Let people take this as an opportunity to kip fit, get in touch with one’s inner self and  also engage in   reading that would  help expand their knowledge.

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