With the recent exposé on certificates of doom, the question Kenyans should be asking is why the situation is as it is. We have certificates of doom not because people receive certificates through corruption but because in Kenya we pay too much attention to ‘certificates’ and ‘papers’ rather than the content of education. Rather than be synonymous with skill and knowledge that one can earn a living through, certificates and papers are synonymous with opportunity in a few established sectors of the economy. Do we provide an education that empowers individuals to be in charge of their own lives or an education that serves the interests of a few existing employers? For instance, what is the point of a bachelor of commerce degree if one cannot do anything with it apart from being employed? What’s the purpose of a certificate that gathers dust on the shelves after costing a fortune to attain it? Should not the money parents spend on education amount to a form of capital in affording economic opportunities to their children? Should not a bachelor of commerce degree be attained when an individual has started his/her own enterprise and has been successfully guided to run it. Should not every field of study have an entrepreneurial and practical aspect to it? We can borrow a leaf from the Chandaria Business Innovation & Incubation Centre which supports innovation from students and the youth alike. We also have the Global Social and Sustainable Enterprise Program at the United States International University (USIU-Kenya) that enables students to start a business venture before graduation. Is not that what education should be about? Yet our education is all too theoretical and lacking in practicality. As the Kenyan population continues to grow and fewer employment opportunities are available, education should be overhauled to focus on entrepreneurship. In fact, that’s the only way to achieve economic growth and reap benefits from the demographic dividend. Our focus should not be so much on attracting investors to get access to cheap and quality labour as it should be on empowering our youth to utilise the immense opportunities available in the country. When educational opportunities do not really invest in the youth, the youth are viewed as a problem, not as an asset. Why would we have people buying certificates and women selling their bodies in order to get good grades? Why do we have individuals who need to ‘polish up’ their grades in order to be get an opportunity to sustain themselves economically? Might I add, should not every individual have a fair shot at life? It’s not so much about vetting or accrediting rogue institutions as it is about the quest for an abundant life. It’s about access to equal opportunity and our education system should give that to everyone. Corrupt institutions and individuals provide opportunities that our educational system might be oblivious to. They also thrive from the fact that all individuals have to show from their years of school is a piece of paper and nothing visible or practical. Unfortunately our education system is designed to benefit a few who serve in the sectors where few opportunities that are available. It doesn’t prepare students to be self sufficient and be in control of their lives.
Education should aim at awakening the gifts in individuals, not making everyone regurgitate the same information so as to select a few who fit in a few industries. I believe every individual has a unique gift to offer to the world but our education system is not sensitive to the unique abilities of its citizenry. What we have a pre-set type of education that we all have to digest and then we get assessed on how we can memorise information and not necessarily how well we apprehend issues and concepts.
As students may be challenged in cramming information but may know how to reason things out. We need an education that encourages students to look at the challenges and problems around them and finds solutions to them. We can all be the instruments through which new knowledge is unearthed. This year close to 200,000 students who sat for the Kenya Certificate of Primary education missed form 1 places. Where do these students end up? How about those who miss the chance to join good universities? Do we care what happens to such individuals? We cannot have a nation that churns out failures. This was well echoed in the Ominde report of 1963: We must make a determined effort to blunt the edge of competition, for we cannot build a nation of ‘failures’. We must find some way of showing every young person, who leaves our schools (mostly, alas, far too early), that he has in truth a worthwhile and respected part to play in the daily work of our community; that in the chain of co-operation, which is our national harambee, he is an essential and much needed link. (Ominde, 1964, p. 23) A ‘certificate’ may well make the difference between those who get opportunities to empower themselves economically and those who do not. If the educational system is unfair, others will use unfair means to get a fair chance at life and certificates of doom will continue to be the norm.