Plans to reform education may fully ruin sector

Friday, September 15th, 2023 04:00 | By
A blackboard. PHOTO/Internet

Significant uncertainty exists in the education sector, running through the entire system from basic to higher education.

The change in the education structure, which the current administration inherited from the previous one, has never been fully understood or comprehensively explained. It is not even clear whether the current regime has embraced these changes. Parents appear to have been left in limbo to figure it out for themselves.

The reforms initiated by the government, whether understood or not, are in full swing of implementation. Unfortunately, for the average citizen, many things remain unclear.

Two challenges must be managed in the higher education sector. At the higher education level, the immediate one is the funding issue. But coming soon is the translation of CBC at the university level.
For many parents, it is a touch-go situation.

Kenya is reforming a sector that is too critical for the population and trying to do it quickly. The hurry does not allow for the time and luxury of explaining to the average citizen how the changes affect them and what to do to cope.

The old funding model has been retired. The average stakeholder may not know why, but it does not matter. Instead, the new funding model is being implemented. It categorises seekers of higher education funding into four: vulnerable, extremely needy, needy and less needy.

Many parents are still in the dark about these categories. The choice of nomenclature that does not empower stakeholders is regressive. Walking around for four years with the labels “vulnerable” and “needy” tagged on one’s documents looks like a design of a sadist.

Access to funding support is tied to one’s categorisation, with the vulnerable people set to secure access to full government support. At the same time, the less needy will get limited support, with part of the funding for their education coming from their guardians.

It is a far cry from when university education in Kenya was privileged as long as you passed your exams. Your tuition was guaranteed complete with funding for a student’s incidentals. Many students from the current vulnerable category then could easily support their families back in the villages with the allowances they drew from the university.

The impact of the changes we are witnessing marks the nation’s trajectory in transferring the responsibility of providing quality education from the government to the private sector. It started with the reduced funding of public schools, which led to the emergence of private academies.

With better facilities and performance in exams, parents who could afford sent their children to private sector schools.

Today, there is a corresponding private university for every public university. The dominance of the public university in the higher education sector is waning due to poor funding, administrative mismanagement, corruption, and the politicisation of education.

Public universities no longer have advantage over private universities. Private universities have a clear lead in legal education, journalism, communication, business education and are competitive in other disciplines including medicine.

University education is a wholesome experience that provides facilities for extracurricular activities. Private players have stepped in to provide better accommodation for university students and those attending other colleges.

Given an option to secure loans and attend a programme of one’s choice then public universities may not be in a position to compete with private universities in some of these fields. How for example, would a leading public university with hardly a microphone to its name compete in training students in journalism with a private one that has over a dozen fully equipped studios with majority of their faculty having the highest qualifications?

Public universities do not even hold an advantage when it comes to the fees charged. In fact, private universities are, in some cases, cheaper than public universities. The reforms in education will lead to complete privatisation of the sector. The time to take deliberate steps to stem this tide is now.

— The writer is Dean, School of Communication, Daystar University

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