Prof. Ayiro’s Blogging Conversations with Dr. Lydia Radoli
Question: What has contributed to the dismal quality of education in Africa?
Prof. Ayiro: Many factors contribute to the dismal number of researchers in Africa. First, education in Africa is mainly exam-oriented, learners only master a certain piece of work to re-produce and qualify within the set exam precincts. Searching for knowledge comes much later.
The way the education system is conceptualized in Africa, means we cannot get teachers and innovators.
Teachers are products of the system and have limited intellectual aspirations. In Kenya, there is no adequate investment in the education sector.
Secondly, there is an obsession with a 100% transition from primary to secondary education. Statistically, there are 23,000 primary schools and 5,000 secondary schools, this means that children from primary schools are funneled in limited spaces in secondary schools.
These existing imbalances water down the quality of education. Resources are overstretched, and in some cases, schools lack equipment for practical courses. For instance, if we have 90 students in a class, the capacity in the laboratory is limited and cannot hold 40 students. Huge numbers of students per class implies for instance, that literature teachers cannot mark books.
One cannot mark 100 books in a night, it will take months to get that done. In addition, it is impossible to engage in collaborative learning, by the sheer congestion in classrooms.
Allocation of financial resources in education and research from the national budgets is inadequate or non-existent. The money distributed means that every University will end up with 2 or 3 million, that will not give latitude to the studies.
Therefore, students end up lagging behind. These and more, are reasons rendering the quality of education in Africa low.
Question: Many Academicians in Africa have been exposed to education abroad, why are we not seeing improvement in the quality of education?
Prof. Ayiro: While we have many scholars, who have been exposed to education abroad, when they return home, they get frustrated.
When I came from Texas A & M from after post-graduate studies, I went to Moi University and I was determined to teach undergraduate students, so that I can mold and mentor these young people, but I stepped in a lecture hall of research methods, with 1200 students”. This number is huge, they don’t even feel your body order, they are too far away, are you going to make an impact, you can’t.
You can’t give them assignments, you can’t have group discussions, you can’t do anything, so it you done your lecture and walk out. With such experiences after time, scholars get de- motivated because of fatigue.
Those in sciences want laboratories which are not sufficient. I know some universities which have two to three laboratories serving 3000 students. They have no equipment, they have no gas, water is not running, how do you then get what you are looking for?
These scholars come home to decay, the ones who are succeeding are those collaborating with the North, they get to network and engage in collaborative projects with Universities in the West, which also fund researchers.
I was delighted when I went to Texas A & M, because the State of Texas contributes millions of dollars towards research in universities. The state believes that nothing can be done without researchers from the universities. Whether it is a policy document for education, or some scientific research in genes or genetics, the state supports universities and funds those professors to undertake research.
South Africa is doing the same, but in Kenya, universities get little for research from the government.
Question: Is re-structuring the education system the solution?
Prof. Ayiro: Unfortunately, we imbibe systems from a very superficial level.
Someone will argue that the Competency Based Curriculum (CBC) will produce more competent Kenyans, however the reality in schools is different. There are no facilities to ensure children achieve the proposed competency.
The level of development in African countries does not allow systems like CBC to thrive. Then there are ambitious projects of achieving 100% literacy levels. I do not have a problem with 100 percent transition, because you want all children to go to high school, to be literate, but there is a problem with the assumption that everybody should go to high school, or universities.
For example, the craze about Technical and Vocational Education Training (Tvet) , which is being falsely equated to university education, these are two different things. Tvet requires a certain mindset and skill base. For example, in Kenya, TVET institutions are poorly equipped. You have 600 students doing laboratory technology against one lab, you have lost it. There is a lot of duplication of foreign systems.
Tvet was modelled along the German system of education, but Germany has a huge resource-base, they have an an economy that can absorb the resource demand for Tvet.
One day I challenged a Minister who argued that there are no plumbers in the country. For example, if we produced plumbers in a place like Yala in Siaya, how many people are building houses that need plumbing?.
If you have a place where everyone is building houses that need plumbing, then you will need plumbers, and anybody who has finished form four and takes apprenticeship will get skills because they have basic education. However, if you want to produce more plumbers in Kenya, you need to be aware of what the economy is not generating. Our level of education doesn’t allow that.
Another example is drawn from the Chinese – led construction sites that are mechanized. You do not see people pushing wheelbarrows or mixing cement. They use trucks and machines. In this construction the human numbers are higher than machines. So, when I hear about the wheel barrow economy, I laugh.
Question: Has the African continent contributed in changing the state of education?
Prof. Ayiro: The African Union (AU) has done a great job in bring a consortium of African scholars together . There are centers of excellence across the African region. These include: centers for industrial chemistry, biomedical or medicine.
There are also zones in Africa under the auspices of the AU, they are getting funding to enhance research and innovation.
The Writer is a Journalist and Lecturer in the School of Communication at Daystar University