Monday, November 24, 2014

Why investing in human capital is imperative

Of the many issues that bedevil Kenya and the region in the 21st century, developing human capital is one of the most urgent. We must therefore prioritize human capital formation.

David Ndii believes we cannot produce skilled workers. In Dr. Ndii’s view, “in countries oversupplied with skilled workers, banks don’t poach tellers from each other. One hundred thousand primary-schooled athletic AK-47 marksmen we can supply for sure.”

The prevalence of stunting is nearly 40 percent. A recent study reported by Save the Children in the report, Food for Thought: Tackling child malnutrition to unlock potential and boost prosperity, shows that compared with normal children, stunted children: score 7 percent lower on math tests; are 19 percent less likely to be able to read a simple sentence at age 8, and 12 percent less likely able to write a simple sentence; and, are 13 percent less likely to be in the appropriate grade for their age at school. The implication is that about 40 percent of kids in every cohort in our school systems is pre-ordained to achieve way below their potential.

Dr. Ndii is right on the money when he says we cannot supply skilled workers because we have not invested in quality teachers. In 2009, African Population and Health Research Center conducted a classroom observation study focusing on math in 72 schools in six districts in Kenya. The students’ mean score in standardized primary 6 math was 47 percent. The mean score for teachers was 60.5 percent, with the lowest teacher scoring 17 percent and highest 94 percent.

We cannot match the prodigious talent pools of the Philippines because in the 21st century high school education is not the birthright of every Kenyan child but a privilege of a few. We have an unconscionable undersupply of high schools. Moreover, the scarcity of secondary and tertiary education resources is a major driver of the corruptible exam-centric education system. We are more concerned about the ability of our children to tick the correct bubble in the multiple choices questions than their ability to think, imagine, innovate and create.

We cannot produce a critical mass of high quality workers because less than 7percent of the children who enter primary school make it to tertiary level. The quality of teaching in our universities is deplorable. According to a study commissioned by the Inter-University Council of East Africa and the East African Business Council, 51 percent of young men and women graduating from our universities are not employable.

We cannot produce high quality graduates because our universities are not accountable for value, relevance and quality. Without resorting to externally imposed accountability systems, universities should be obligated to develop specific and clear goals for student achievement. Universities should collect verifiable data on how students are meeting their learning goals, across all degree programs. The results of such self-assessment should be made available to prospective students and their parents.

If we go on business as usual, pay lip service to education and training, Kenya’s moment will forever tarry. We will always be on the cusp of greatness. Kenya will rise or fall by the quality of its human capital. No length of rail or road or size of harbor or airport or megawatts of power can be a substitute for a dearth of skilled labor, especially in a globalized knowledge economy. 

Kenya must produce highly skilled and engaged citizens in order to compete in today’s globalized knowledge economy. The logic of our current system of education was conceived in the old era of the industrial economy. Moreover, the purpose of our current system of education was designed in the colonial era.

We are not live in the industrial economy and we are not a colony. Hence, there is no room for an unthinking, unquestioning underclass, which must only do as it is told. Educating a work force for a postcolonial, new knowledge economy demands that we prepare our children for an unknown future, to learn how to learn.
When information is a click away on the cellphone, tablet and computer what is the relevance of a content and fact laden curriculum? What is the role of the teacher? What is the value of school?


Kenya’s education system must move up the value chain. The education system, at all levels, must support critical thinking, analytical reasoning, collaboration, problem solving, play, innovation and discovery.

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