In Conversation with Dr. Loise Gichuhi

The Education System in Africa has Failed the Youth

Loise Gichuhi holds a PhD in Economics of Education from the University of Nairobi where she is currently a lecturer, a Master’s in Economics of Education and a Bachelor’s degree in Mathematics and Economics from Kenyatta University. Her work is situated in Africa mainly on Economics and planning of education. Her research interests include conflict, post-conflict and peace-building processes and dynamics in Africa. Between 2012 and 2015, Loise was a member of International Association of Universities (IAU) Reference Group on Higher Education for education for All (EFA), EFA Priorities.  She is concerned with theory and practice and how programming within the education sector can be informed by both national and international research and policy. She consults in education. Her recent short consultancy is in Research on Education, Inequality and Peace-building in Kenya. She was a faculty member for the Humanitarian Leadership Program (Deakin University and Save the Children).

Q1: What inspires your work? Education well planned and formulated is the driver of development. Having come from a humble background I am inspired by the transformative role of education. I am who I am today because my parents took the expensive route of educating a girl.

Q2: Has the education system in Africa failed the African youth? Many African countries’ education agenda, especially those that were colonized, started their education agenda with a major appetite for size and quantitative expansion. Confidence in education was a major concern and ambitious enrollment targets were set. Over time there has been major criticisms and a feeling of disappointment in the role of education in the youth agenda. It is evident that education does not operate in a vacuum; institutional arrangements should always correspond to the wider societal and economic framework which sets limits to planning and reform. Policy makers must realize that quantitative planning has to go hand in hand with qualitative planning. African education systems must guard against losing the vision for quality relevant education that engages the youth either in job creation or employment sector. Looking at educated unemployment numbers in Africa someone can be tempted to say yes.  The number of unemployed youth rises every year.

Q3: How has technology impacted the education system? Technology has major benefits in an education system when well implemented and utilized. As schools continue to be recognized and understood as providers of skilled and knowledgeable people for the workforce, there are fundamental development reasons why technology is important. Technology allows teachers to deliver more student /personalized content and lessons. Technology when well utilized can enhance the student’s ability to do assignments and class work. Both the teacher and the student must be exposed to the benefits of using technology. However, there are situations where the students are well ahead of the teachers and that is a challenge. Technology’s effectiveness depends on trained teachers. Mobile phone, the gadget with majority of the people (students, parents, and the teachers), has great potential if well utilized since it is cost effective compared to computers/ tablets that require an expensive infrastructural development. Technology can also be misused especially when it interferes with the education system’s goals and objectives. When technology is used to propagate cheating in examination it should be restricted.

Q4: How is an education system that is exam-oriented shaping the youth? An exam – oriented education system is very dangerous. Such a system equips the learners with minimal skills like recalling and how-to-write-an-exam skills.  An education system should strive to equip its graduates with foundation, transferable, technical and vocational skills. This will help to address the mismatch between what the schools are producing and what employers and citizens need. Critical thinking and awareness is fundamental in the world of work and for survival. Education system should educate the youth to see their interests and organize them to fight for their interests. The society/parents’ demand for good examination results must be considered with caution. Good results are welcome but not in an environment of mutilating the curriculum, cheating, and other malpractices.

Q5: How can we make quality education more accessible and affordable for all children? Different stakeholders must come into play to achieve quality education for all. There are many technical variables that need to be tied together in order to make education more accessible and affordable. A major variable is the political influence and willingness to lead in the provision and implementing quality education for all. This can be achieved by addressing the barriers; minimize punitive indirect costs that affects access to schooling despite governments’ free education strategies in many African countries, supply of teachers, and provision of school infrastructure to marginalized communities. Increasing the number of teachers without proper training or no training at all will get more children into school, but jeopardize education quality. Public-private partnerships should be encouraged to meet financial gaps and reaching out to those regions that are unreachable.

Q6: What challenges are current educationists facing and how can we address them? There are a myriad of issues; lack of motivation, quantitative expansion of education sector without a corresponding number of trainers, slow reforms in education that often ignore the implementers of the reforms. Poor planning; demand and supply of graduates leads to many being unemployed which de-motivates the educator. Compensation issues for teachers that take long to be addressed, lack of research funds and too rigid promotion policies especially in the universities.

Many of these issues can be addressed from a short term and a long term perspective.  The bottom line is political willingness to improve the quality of education and to improve the educator in more ways than monetizing the agenda. Motivating the educator can be both monetary and non-monetary.

Q7: What challenges are learners facing and how can we address them? The challenges are innumerable and diverse. The biggest challenge is maintaining access to quality relevant education for all. Governments have a long-standing commitment to guaranteeing the right to education. However, despite encouraging quantitative trends, quality remains an issue. Many children do not complete primary level education and many are leaving school without basic skills. The teacher – pupil ratio remains a challenge in many countries. Intra-regional gaps take longer to be addressed. Infrastructure inequalities perpetuate inequalities in achieving education.

To address these challenges, governments must increase and prioritize education expenditure in national budgets.  Governments must also set and rethink educational targets that are specific, relevant and measurable. There is need to contextualize curriculum to the society needs.  Affirmative action must be taken to reach the marginalized and disadvantaged groups.

Q8: What needs to change in the current education systems in most African countries? The challenge for any education system is to leverage the rapid growth in the labor force into higher economic growth performance. There is need to increase productivity and skills development reform strategies. There is need to rethink value-addition education reforms that bring out the full potential of a learner. This will help the graduates to keep pace with increasingly competitive labour markets. Inclusive education should be encouraged and implemented. This must consider social, economic, political and cultural factors that generate exclusion. Education stakeholders must develop an intersectoral policy that addresses the causes of exclusion so that all children are brought on board.

Q9: How can we nurture innovation within learning institutions? Critical thinking is a major factor in nurturing innovation.  Students and teachers must be open to dynamism of learning and teaching. Stakeholders must rethink curriculum and redesign a more flexible, balanced and less-extensive curriculum with a provision for diverse and cross-curricular activities. The teacher and the student and other stakeholders must work collaboratively to develop curricular activities across the board. The environment should be conducive to allow great achievements. Both the learner and the teacher must be motivated to walk extra miles through flexible and critical thinking arena.

Q10: Last words to the youth out there: In many developing countries there has been undeniable quantitative growth in the number of educated youth. The labor market is growing at a slower rate than the number of youths looking for jobs.  In order to improve our lives we must remain focused and flexible to the dynamism of the changing society. We must check on non-traditional employment sectors and develop our skills and talents. Self employment might be the immediate solution to many youths. This can be a win-win situation if the government and donor organizations can create an environment and provide seed money to the youth.

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