Bridging the Gap between Education and Society

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Intelligent, sharp and charismatic are three words we would like to describe Reuben Mwangi when we interviewed him recently. Reuben Mwangi, is the Chief Technology Officer at Intellinks East Africa Limited, a company that deals with Computer & Network Security in Nairobi, Kenya.


Reuben Mwangi and his team

Reuben Mwangi and his team


Today, Reuben shares with us the disconnection between what is taught in East African tertiary institutions to what is demanded by the job market, especially in the ICT field and what could be done to potentially reduce that gap.


The landscape of education today

In January 2003 President Mwai Kibaki of Kenya re-introduced free primary education in public schools and 2008 for secondary school.

Since the government made it compulsory for all to attend primary and secondary education, there was an increase of the number of people attempting higher education — technical institutions, universities, etc.

The number of fresh graduates leaving tertiary education has ballooned over the years, with currently more than 100,000 on average from a university annually. With such a number, the private and public sectors have a problem absorbing them, hardly able to provide opportunities on time for these young graduates. Therefore, unemployment is increasing.

The cut-off point in getting into public universities have been reduced, thus more people are able to join the university for the past few years. For boys, it’s usually 60 points, and girls, 58 points to enter into University.


Public and private universities

Kenya has several public universities, such as Jomo Kenyatta University, The University of Nairobi, Kenyatta University, Makerere University, etc. Kenyatta University is currently one of the biggest universities, with the highest number of intakes, followed by The University of Nairobi. But in The University of Nairobi is still regarded as the one with a better quality of education, the place where many high school students want to go.

The job market is biased along the lines of where the students graduate from. University of Nairobi students are often the most sought after, followed by Jomo Kenyatta University and Kenyatta University.

In terms of private universities, Strathmore University is still considered to be the leader. It has one of the lowest number of unemployed graduates as compared to graduates from other private and public universities. It’s almost a guarantee that if you graduate from Strathmore, you will get a job afterwards.


The rise of incubators

In order to meet the market needs, universities and industries have been working hand in hand to fulfil the required market demand for certain sectors to better connect education to society.

For example, Kenyatta University has formed the Chandaria Business Innovation and Incubation Centre. Chandaria is one of the richest and most powerful man in Africa. His company collaborated with Kenyatta University to create a centre within the university where students with creative business ideas can come forth to pitch and grow their ideas and potentially receive funding from the Chandaria foundation.

This is the trend right now, especially when most companies are now in favour in investing in the next big idea. This brings the partnership between the companies who are interested in a particular idea and students from universities who could provide the ideal solutions. Therefore, you can see a lot of universities like Kenyatta University, The University of Nairobi, and Strathmore University working alongside with companies that offer funding for great innovations.

The technology sector is definitely blooming, and might even be growing faster than internship or regular employment.


The knowledge gap between education and society

Other fields are also hindered because of the outdated curriculum. Curriculum taught during the early 2000s are still taught today, and it could not catch up with the huge shift in the job knowledge required.

This is one of the main problems happening in East Africa, especially in Kenya right now. There are only a few universities, like Strathmore, that have lecturers who work very closely with industries so as to be updated on the latest industry trends and knowledge. As for the public universities, they might take a couple more years to adapt.

In general, not just in Kenya, Universities should always work more closely with industries, especially lecturers who create the curriculum. Universities must be very strict with the level of quality of knowledge to be transferred to students. With an updated curriculum, students will get updated knowledge required in the workforce, thus bridging the gap between education and society.


Solution to the unemployment problem

I think universities are supposed to be centres of innovation, research, invention. They should be centres where new ideas are welcome, encouraged and entertained. Regurgitated content and a lethargy to change the curriculum by the universities are holding the students, the universities and the economy back in terms of realizing their true potential. The universities should structure their curriculum to favour courses that teach leadership, entrepreneurship and innovation. Producing more leaders, entrepreneurs and innovators are the ultimate solution to the unemployment problem!