Those who did not go beyond primary school in Kenya to be degree holders

  • Most learners who fail to join secondary school join the jua kali sector
  • The jua kali sector, the largest employer in Kenya, employs up to 80 per cent of the youth, most of them primary school dropouts
  • Most of these young people don’t choose to go into jua kali; they find themselves there by default

Every year, a significant percentage of pupils who sit the Kenya Certificate of Primary Education (KCPE) don’t proceed with education, partly due to low grades.

Last year, of the 942,021 candidates who sat the 2016 KCPE examination, 300,000 scored 249 marks and below.

This means they failed to meet the average Form One admission mark: 250. Of these, 221,438 scored between 101 and 200 marks. A total of 6,747 candidates scored 100 marks and below.

According to Kenya National Qualifications Agency (KNQA) chairman Prof Bonaventure Kerre, most learners who fail to join secondary school join the jua kali sector. “Most of these young people don’t choose to go into jua kali; they find themselves there by default,” says Prof Kerre.

The jua kali sector, the largest employer in Kenya, employs up to 80 per cent of the youth, most of them primary school dropouts.

“It is when they want to advance their studies and get degrees that they encounter roadblocks,” says Prof Kerre.

Last week, KNQA held a consultative forum to discuss a draft qualifications framework set to be rolled out in learning institutions in January next year.

The framework proposes pathways that a Kenyan citizen who fails to attend secondary education can use to qualify for a certain level of certification, including a university degree.

The forum, attended by hundreds of representatives of universities and middle-level colleges, discussed the fate of people who had necessary industrial skills but lacked written qualifications to prove their competencies. Should they go back to secondary school and get a C+ before they proceed for degree programmes? Should they shy away from applying for roles in which they were competent unless they have secondary school certification? Are they to always live in fear that someday their employer might ask them to produce certificates which they don’t have?

“Of course not. School dropouts have multiple ways to redeem themselves. With the pathways, we insist someone can go up to university without stepping into a secondary school,” says Prof Kerre.

The pathways are contained in the draft KNQF passed by education stakeholders in May.

According to the framework provides three distinct pathways for learners who fail to join secondary school. Learners will be enrolled into some form of training that will see them sit the first examination called Government Trade Tests (GTT).

After the first training level, the learners will sit the first trade test called GTT I. This certificate is an equivalent of a National Vocational Certificate (NVC), which will also be the first qualification for Form Four leavers who fail to secure university admission or those who wish to pursue technical education.

The learner will then sit a second trade test (GTT II), which will be an equivalent of National Vocational Certificate certificate/artisan.

The third and last trade test (GTT III) for Standard Eight leavers will elevate them to the level of craftsman.

This gives hope to people like Simon, who has not sat any of the tests and has been in the industry for more than a decade.

“He should be advised to visit the National Industrial Training Authority where he will be subjected to a trade test to ascertain his training. He has many years of prior learning that shouldn’t go to waste. They deserve some credits,” says Prof Kerre.

Prof Kerre says four new levels will be introduced for the Standard Eight leavers – the master crafts person (III), (II), (I) and professional master crafts person. The master crafts persons will sit National Skills Certificates tests at every stage.

He says the master crafts person will be at the same level as a master’s degree graduate.

At a media briefing earlier this year, Prof Kerre said that the Public Service Commission (PSC) would use these structures to work out remuneration.

“There will be no reason why a master crafts person should not be in the same job grade as a master’s degree holder or why a master craft person should not be in the same pay grade as a degree holder,” Prof Kerre said.

“After obtaining the national diploma, the student will be able to enroll for a bachelor’s degree course in a university.”

Prof Kerre said there was no difference between what institutions referred to as a higher diploma and a normal diploma and insisted that “a diploma is just a diploma and could permit a learner to a university even without going through secondary school”.

He said a diploma was equivalent to a minimum of 240 credit hours and depending on the kind of agreement between a student and the university they wished to join, the credit hours would be transferable to a particular stage of a degree programme. In acquisition of a diploma, one year is an equivalent of 1,200 learning hours, which translates to 120 credit hours.

But a section of heads of universities felt the framework had loopholes.

“How will a university rate the equivalence of foreign qualifications to allow them to pursue a degree of their choice?” asked Prof Robert Gateru, Riara University vice-chancellor.

Prof Kerre said that the agency was working with foreign qualifications regulators, including the International General Certificate of Secondary Education examiners to agree on a framework of qualifications.

One university head said it was prudent to allow technical institutions in Kenya to continue admitting school dropouts who wanted to further their studies in tertiary institutions.

“Technical institutions in Kenya are not enough for this role,” Glory Mutungi, Kenya Association of Technical Training Institutions chairperson, said.

Mutungi said that it was unfortunate that some universities were not willing to offer an opportunity to brilliant students who had failed to complete their secondary education because of school fess challenges.

Prof Kerre said that shutting doors on skilled people who had interest in learning was wrong.

“No wonder some universities in Kenya would dismiss Bill Gates, the founder of Microsoft who dropped out of university, if he wanted to further his studies,” Prof Kerre said.

He said that the current education system that does not provide alternative pathways to people looking to acquire tertiary certification does not offer level ground for learners.

“It is not fair to equate a C+ to three years of diploma training when admitting students at university,” Prof Kerre said.

He said that a student with three years spent on training after secondary school should be allowed some credit and allowed to join at either second year on third year.

Commission for University Education chairman Prof Chacha Nyaigoti Chacha said KNQA framework was long overdue.

“With the framework, we will be able to address some of the challenges we have grappled with in universities where you find a similar diploma being offered for different durations by different institutions,” Prof Chacha said.

Prof Chacha said the pathways would provide options to learners who couldn’t progress with education for various reasons.

“We should give it a chance. Thereafter, we can comb through it in case of any gaps that need addressing. But first, we must give it room to kick off,” he said.