By - Kiraithe Daniel Mutemi
Despite various education and research efforts in Africa, most countries still face similar challenges. Incidentally, problems that faced us before and during colonialism are still pulling us back more than half a century after the independence. For instance, Kenya’s founding father and first president Jomo Kenyatta identified three critical problems at independence in 1963 that he wanted to deal with to change the lives of the then young nation. He wanted to fight ignorance, poverty and diseases as tools to provide social, economic empowerment to people. This dream is yet to be achieved 56 years later.
As a scholar himself, he understood the importance of equipping people with education as a means of fighting ignorance. Research is a crucial ingredient of quality education that can solve human challenges. Research centres were started, and people were lured to go to school. Many still felt it was not necessary and stayed in the bushes herding their cattle. There was no problem with getting jobs. In fact, people were employed in government offices as long as they could read or write their names. Civil service was a source of jobs and had little focus on providing essential services. Kenyan literacy levels though above Africa’s average, are not impressive at a global space.
Poverty eradication was the next big agenda. Since poverty starts from the mindset, the presidents envisioned a literate society would easily create wealth. He was right. People believed they were rich as long as they could eat and sleep. The majority of ranches were left to be owned and managed by white settlers who set up processing industries. Agricultural products processing plants were doing well, although the money still went out of the economy through repatriated profits to foreign countries. Manufacturing, vehicle assembly plants and other industries were thriving, and the government was determined to see more wealth created. Today, we have more poor people living below the poverty line than those who have substantial wealth.
The third item was fighting diseases. A sick nation cannot be productive. Many diseases, such as malaria and other tropical diseases, were claiming the lives of people at independence. There were few hospital facilities, and the need to set up more research centres was evident. Kenya Medical Research Institute (KEMRI) is one such centre. Universities were a serious education and research institutions by then. Many of the early Kenyan scholars went to Makerere University in neighbouring Uganda to study and teach. The University of Nairobi and Kenyatta University were able to accommodate a few students, especially in the medical field. By 2006, Kenya had only seven public universities and a few private universities. Gaining entry to study in medical fields was almost a nightmare until universities mushroomed from 2010 onwards. Still, diseases are taking away lives even when they could be prevented or treated.
The Role of Education, Research in Development
Education systems have been blamed for the social, economic challenges facing many African nations even today. There has been a new curriculum introduced this year to help curb problems such as unemployment in Kenya. The system is called competency-based curriculum (CBC) and is expected to instill practical skills to learners. This approach is different from the previous 8.4.4 system that trained students to ‘pass’ exams but graduates without practical skills.
A closer look at the system reveals the implementation may be the problem and not the system itself. For instance, corruption and other forms of irregularities are prevalent in learning institutions from gaining admission to graduating and even securing jobs. This comes down to moral decay in the society and not the inherent weaknesses of the education system. While it is arguably the best curriculum in the world, the CBC system might not offer satisfactory solutions unless implanted with integrity.
While Africa as a whole continues to face the same challenges that were there fifty years ago, it is essential to reexamine the role of the research part of education in offering solutions. One would be convinced that with the increase in universities from 7 to over 60 in 10 years, more problems would be solved. The number of graduates has been ballooning, job becoming hard to get and most income going to the consumption of imported products.
Analysts cannot help but form a hypothesis that research works done at our universities are meant to help students to ‘pass’ exams only. They do not offer so much needed solutions. This phenomenon comes down to proper programs implementation and ethics of the society. Students have published excellent research papers and even lecturers addressing some pertinent issues, but these problems don’t seem to go away. This observation comes at the backdrop of the revelation by BBC Africa investigate on how west Africa universities use sex to give favours to female students. This is definitely not a West African problem. It could be rooted more in other parts of the continent.
The Kenya Commission for University Education (CUE) opened a probe into one university for what it termed as ‘possible irregularities’ in awarding students PhD degrees after a colourful graduation ceremony. Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (JKUAT) graduated 118 Doctorate students in it 33rd graduation held on June 2019 raising eyebrows.
Research and development lead to inventions and innovations. However, it essential to support the few innovations avoiding commercial interests that create tussles between innovators and wealth owners. African governments must take the initiative to support innovative people, organizations and students. Rwanda is leading by example, where the government opened a smartphone manufacturing plant. While most of the countries are facing deficits in the balance of payments, innovative ones like Rwanda are likely to achieve more progress in education and industrialization.
There is a possibility that we design solutions to our problems using other people’s ideas. We rely on research works done else to understand our place of birth and where we have grown. Africa could be solving problems using the wrong techniques due to poor research, data and strategies.
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