Modernizing Tertiary Education – some ideas

Wow! Thank you Jimmy, for the deep, thoughtful and candid response.

The example you have given goes right to the very the heart of the matter: Our value system, the essential \”why\” around everything we do, is poorly articulated and inadequate.
Article 10. is arguably the most important chapter in the constitution as it governs the interpretation and application of the constitution, as well as, all laws and all policies made in Kenya. Yet it is one of the most vague and poorly thought out chapters in the document.

Article 10 defines \”national values and principles of governance\” as:
(a) patriotism, national unity, sharing and devolution of power, the rule of law, democracy and participation of the people;(b) human dignity, equity, social justice, inclusiveness, equality, human rights, non-discrimination and protection of the marginalised;
(c) good governance, integrity, transparency and accountability; and
(d) sustainable development.
Even though the terms used in Article 10 sound nice and (perhaps were intended to) conform to donor buzz-phrases, no one really knows exactly what they mean, why they were chosen, why other values were left out and why the ones chosen are good/best for us!

Change management practitioners will concur that it is very difficult (if not impossible) to have intrinsic community buy-in, ownership and actualization of \”top-down\” imposed values – notwithstanding the benefits. National values must be intrinsically held – and must make sense at a personal level – or they will not be practiced voluntarily and consistently, especially when \”no one is looking\”.

For example, what does \”equality\” really mean in Article 10? Is it about equality of opportunity or is it rooting for equality of outcomes or is it a paradoxical mix of both – and in what ways? Clear answers would/should fundamentally shape our choice of economic ideology and/or policies. Arbitrarily advocating for \”equality\” without defining the term, in view of strategic objectives, does not make sense.

Even gender equality has certain implications which require careful thought e.g. how do we ensure that working parents are not sacrificing their kids values, wholesome development and future prospects by leaving them in the care of semi-literate, un-vetted guardians – in order to achieve present-day economic goals? Perhaps we need mandatory daycare and/or nursing centers in – or within walking distance of – all office buildings and at least 6 months maternity leave + 12 months flexi-time / remote work for nursing mothers for example…? which leads to… how does motherhood impact career options and does that affect the practicality of gender equality at vocational level? We need such discussions and debates in academia, media and policy circles.
Other notoriously ambiguous terms in Article 10 include \”democracy\”, \”equality\”, \”good governance\”, \”integrity\”, \”transparency\” and \”accountability\”. The assumption is that these oft-politicized words can have a universal meaning – which is simply not true.

Article 10 conflates terminologies – which only adds more confusion: Is there / should there be a difference between national values and principles of governance? is the intention to make the two phrases synonymous or is it to restrict national values to the narrow context of governance? Again, it does not look as if adequate holistic thought was put into this laundry-list section.
Crippling ambiguity can be addressed by having a \”Constitutional Definitions Chapter\” within the Constitution itself (something to consider if we are headed for a referendum), that allocates a reasonably precise or bounded meaning to notoriously ambiguous and/or oft-politicized constitutional terms. Resources are scarce and the idea of waiting for reactive precedence-interpretations to be made by the Supreme Court over the next 3-5 decades is sub-optimal and wasteful, in my opinion.

Besides conformity to donor-imposed values, we do need our own indigenous values – purposefully designed to create conditions that guarantee our long-term prosperity and sustainability as a country. Article 10 should be the basis for the \”Kenyan Dream\”.

My thoughts about this include:
a. A multi-dimensional definition of what \”achievement\” and \”success\” means in our society: What vocational archetypes should be honored, admired and emulated in our society? My suggestions include:

– Vocations whose activities result in positive, direct and broad-scope societal impact (e.g. Educationists, MSMEs, Small business enablers e.g. investors, Medical practitioners, Farmers, Inventors / Innovators, Wealthy people whose wealth is traceable to fair business practices, and even Politicians / Community leaders who put public interest ahead of their own personal interests when setting policy).
– A culture of aspiring for excellence for its own sake (e.g. life-long learning and self development; striving for maximum potential in chosen fields; vocational self-esteem; non-materialistic sense of worth).
– Can we learn to see (and pride) ourselves as hands-on problem solvers by celebrating and empowering our indigenous innovators and inventors?
– A culture that values home-grown solutions to local and global challenges (e.g. as a vehicle for economic empowerment).

b. Critical Thinking as National value: For example: currently, displays of opulence are automatically interpreted as signals of competence and excellence. Very few people care to question how incredibly vast wealth can be \”magically\” acquired in such a short time. This allows white-collar criminals to launder their reputation and become dubious \”role models\” for our children – with damaging long-term consequences. Shouldn\’t these rags-to-riches overnight miracles be writing world best-sellers or giving business lectures in universities to help eradicate poverty? We all know they can\’t because the skills they have are best articulated in a confession.

So, beyond feel-good terminologies, a lot of deep thought and economic architecture needs to go into the idea of a National Values System – and this should include design for linkages at strategic, tactical and day-to-day level.

Best regards,Patrick.

Patrick A. M. Maina
[Cross-domain Innovator | Independent Public Policy Analyst – Indigenous Innovations]

On Saturday, March 30, 2019, 11:47:11 AM GMT+3, Jimmy Gitonga via kictanet <> wrote:

Greetings Patrick,
I saved this for the weekend so that I can reflect on it as I read it carefully. I almost shed tears at how good and elaborate the ideas you have proposed are. Thank you.
Last week, I met a PhD holder who has lectured for more than a decade as a senior lecturer with no hope of progressing to professorship. Why?
Today, to be considered for associate professorship in a Kenyan university, you must supervise two PhD seekers and four master’s degree students, working through their thesis. This was made necessary because oft times, a PhD candidate would submit his work to the supervisor who would then sit on it, since it did not affect the supervisor’s career prospects. 
However, now my “Dr.” friend is in a discipline that is not attracting a lot of research and thus PhD candidates. The few he has had to deal with try to push shoddy work, believing that he would stoop low and pass the work since he “needs” his professorship. He is resigned to the fact that though he is producing fresh knowledge that is being published outside the country, on the continent and beyond, he now seeks to retire from academia and pursue other literary interests.
I contrasted his path with mine; non-stop learning, education delivered high speed on the Internet, designing and developing web software with no end in demand in sight. I just have to keep my mind sharp and eyes open for relevant technologies that are applicable in Kenya and Africa as a whole. My path was the non-standard one and for a long time my PhD friend use to worry for me. Now I am worried for him and for all the ones taking that “normal” path. 
Recently, I heard of a young “mechanic” who repairs the now electronic cars. Think of the latest Range Rovers. I was told that the cheapest he charges for a “look-see” of a car is 2,500/-. It hit me. That is what an chest specialist charges. 
TVET is going to be the way to go. Finland has the best offer in this area –
And I have not even discussed IoT.

Best Regards,Jimmy Gitonga
Lead, Design and Development at AfroshokLinkedIn: Jimmy Gitonga | Twitter: @Afrowave______________________________________

On 28 Mar 2019, at 11:05 PM, wrote:
Greetings Listers,
The world is changing very rapidly and things that the older generations took for granted no longer apply. There are no jobs waiting for students when they graduate – that era ended decades ago (I believe in the 70s and early 80s). Yet, for some reason, academia appears to be stuck in time, doing things that no longer make sense. 

Here are some thoughts / ideas on what can be done to reform and rescue our tertiary education sector. (PhD holders might be interested in debating point No. 6. – is it too harsh or the right approach in principle? HR Policy practitioners might be interested in point No. 5..):

1. There is need for Government to strategically position TVETs and Universities as direct implementers of Vision 2030 and Big 4 objectives. Example – academia role should include creating sustainable jobs directly, and taking measures to guarantee high employment of graduates; instead of mechanically preparing our young people for jobs that may, or may not exist, then leaving them trapped in debt.

2. Expand CUE mandate to cover TVETs (as Commission for Tertiary Education); and then Implement a Universal Credit Accumulation and Transfer System – that creates multiple pathways *of equal status* towards higher qualifications (i.e. including transferable credits for TVET education and/or credits for demonstrable on-the-job / startup experience). This calls for a national skills mapping database that is derived from, and/or supports strategic national objectives (as outlined in vision 2030 & Big 4 master-plans). Accelerate regional accreditation to leverage intra-Africa synergies in view of AfCFTA.

3. Require *all* form 4 / grade x leavers to first attend TVETs for at least 2 years to gain hands-on technical skills for real world self-sufficiency, before they (i.e. those who wish to do so) attend university. Rationale: We need to keep our eye on the goal. The goal of education, imo,is not to create \”paper churning, hands-off, intellectual elites\” who lack real-world-relevant skills, but to create a competent, grounded, hands-on, innovative and future-proofed workforce that is capable of applying knowledge by making or doing things that help solve, in tangible and measurable ways, very specific challenges faced by our country (primarily) or to help solve global problems in a way that primarily and tangibly benefits our country (enhancing our global brand / jobs creation / high-value exports / attracting high quality FDI etc). 

4. De-eliticize university education by creating high-value technical specialist pathways via TVETs (for high paying jobs and societal status / recognition). This would temper the belief held by the general public that a university degree is the only path to success and social mobility / status.

5. Employers to emphasize and primarily rely on real-world achievements for competence signalling – rather than relying on academic papers. For example, job advertisements should stop asking for academic qualifications. This is a pointless, tick-box requirement that only creates a market for \”River Road degrees\”. 

For regulated roles, like medicine or engineering, having a valid practicing license should be a sufficient indicator of academic achievement as the license (hopefully) cannot be issued without verification of the required academic background. 

We now have the indigenous capacity to implement competency-based hiring painlessly with technology (e.g. via ongoing programs of supervised, automated technical screening assessments to create a national pool of vetted job candidates – which incidentally would eliminate a lot of wastefully redundant HR activities – at macro level). Hopefully tenderpreneurs / MNC lobbyists will not hijack and subvert this idea. Shindwe! 🙂

Incidentally implementing the above suggestion will reduce incentives for cheating or cram & dump learning. 

6. Using policy and regulation to strictly limit career pathways for PhD holders such that they primarily engage in research and academia. Government and corporations should stop hiring PhD holders for full-time administrative roles, for example. It is wasteful, short-sighted and counterproductive (considering the massive resources expended to educate people to that level, as well as the need to productively leverage the intellectual potential of earned PhD holders as a super-scarce resource in Africa). 

PhD holders should be primarily dedicated to pushing the boundaries of knowledge for the benefit of our country – and they should be rewarded very well for it and accorded top societal honors / as well as status (so they are not tempted to seek jobs that do not develop / challenge their intellectual abilities / potential). 

The only exception would be for very specific, short term, high-impact, research-reliant-projects or initiatives with very precise and highly specialized objectives, where exceptionally high levels of real expertise is needed. 

The PhD designation should have (3-5) designation levels that signify real-world achievement at post-doctorate level. PhD holders, other than retirees, who wish to permanently engage in non-research work (or work that can be done by Masters / Bachelors degree holders) should be required to permanently relinquish their PhD qualification and lose the \”Dr.\” designation.

There needs to be a distinctive high-status designation for non-academic honorary doctorates e.g. \”Exceptional Life Achiever Degree\” with the title \”Lx.\” in recognition of non-academic transformational achievements with high societal impact.

7. Academic institutions should form corporations to engage in intellectual property businesses for profit (e.g. IP licensing / manufacturing & distribution) to raise research funds. This requires a pragmatic expansion of institutional mandate as well as strengthening and contextualizing the indigenous IP framework.

8. Pedagogy should be driven by a projects-based learning paradigm with deep integration of learning and real-world work. Removing artificial (and retrogressive) boundaries or demarcations between industry and academia: 

a. Why should learners first graduate before they can start working? This is a mindset problem. Does it make sense to have schoolwork and employment / MSME startups kept separate (yet they are complementary and interdependent)?

b. Why allow someone without real-world paid work (not industrial attachment, but a real job or real MSME startup experience) to graduate? 

c. Why can\’t students learn and gain academic credits on the job (doing real, paid work for someone or in their own startups)? 

d.? Why ask our children to choose the projects they want to work on without setting a strategic real-world context that is mapped to real world goals (e.g. Big 4) and real career prospects. Projects-based learning can solve this – with emphasis on projects that can create sustainable wealth for the country (sold to regional governments or the consumer public).

We need to train a generation of self-starters who can survive by creating their own opportunities – irrespective of the economy or jobs market.

Students should incorporate real startups (with seed funding from Government) during 2nd year – to make and sell products that solve real-world problems in our country / region – and then earn transferable academic credits for demonstrable experience.

Employers like Government, MSMEs and corporations can embed academia into the workplace by adopting an apprenticeship approach in partnership with Universities and TVETs to hire 2nd year students and assign them to projects that enable them to earn \”on-job learning credits\”.

By the time they graduate, at least 99% ought to be gainfully employed (or running real businesses). This is how you tackle poverty and unemployment in a sustainable way. So what really prevents us from doing this – other than mindset?

I know the above might read like heresy to traditionalists – but before you grab the pitchforks and light the torches, look around you… status quo is not working, that\’s the reality – and things will get worse as 4IR gradually kicks in – if we don\’t effect radical transformation. 

I\’d be happy to have a round-table with the faculty of any tertiary institution that is interested in discussing / debating the above points.

Have a great evening!
Patrick A. M. Maina[Cross Domain Innovator | Independent Public Policy Analyst – Indigenous Innovations]

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