Daily Nation
Monday, December 22, 2003

Rethink education policies

Speaking during the inauguration of the Aga Khan Academy in Mombasa, His Highness the Aga Khan, rooted for the expansion of higher education opportunities to absorb the thousands of students who graduate from secondary school. He illustrated the point by citing figures indicating that only about 15 per cent of high school leavers ever proceed to university in many developing countries. In Kenya, less than 10 per cent of school leavers go on to university.

The situation is bound to get worse in time. This is because the number of students seeking higher education will rise in the next few years following increased primary school enrolment.

These facts should inspire us to critically examine the way higher education has developed in the past two decades. Although there has been massive expansion, a lot of problems have risen due to lack of planning and co-ordination.

In the first place, while attention was focused on expanding universities, middle level colleges were left unattended.

In certain cases, these colleges were upgraded and made constituents of public universities or full-fledged universities in their own right, but there were no replacements. The worst hit were technical training institutions, which were systematically neglected. Yet, these are the institutions that offer opportunities for those secondary school leavers who do not qualify for university.

And then, the expanded universities ended up offering similar courses. The authorities concentrated on the humanities which are cheaper to run.

But since these disciplines do not offer many job opportunities, they do not excite many students, some of whom refused to take up their places. Kenya, like many other developing countries, needs to change focus and give a holistic approach to educational development.

As we provide free primary education and expand the number of secondary schools, we must also put in place well co-ordinated programmes to expand higher education as a whole.