This is what Matiang’i reforms really mean

Education Cabinet Secretary Dr Fred Matiang’i has made a raft of proposals to regulate training and award of degrees and diplomas by Kenyan public universities that should interest educationists and Kenyans at large.

First, it should be noted that school-based programmes follow what is referred to as Competency Based Education and Training (CBET) format. They impart practical, technical, employable skills which build onto, and enhance existing skills, knowledge and attitudes.

Anyone who was taught by Kenya Science Teachers College SI or Diploma graduates will attest to the exceptional approach to teaching that they employed. Incrementalism is perfectly acceptable in education and training. What this means is that technical institutions should be strengthened and diploma holders accorded opportunities to advance their skills and knowledge.

Second, Matiang’i directed that holders of Executive Masters degrees cease teaching at university. It should be noted that these programmes are designed for practicing executives who need to complement their practical skills and knowledge with a bit of theory and analytical capability. Ideally, the learner need not be a holder of a degree prior to enrolment into an Executive Master’s programme.

In advanced societies, there is a clear path for Executive Master’s degree holders to advance to Executive Doctorate programmes in their chosen fields of study. In the USA, for example, many business schools have Executive Doctor of Management (EDM) programmes.

EDM is a very high level training which imparts practical skills and knowledge on business and management executives to help them diagnose and solve business problems. Unlike PhD however, EDM is weak in theoretical grounding. Therefore, it is not a research degree, making EDM graduates most suited to teach in Executive Master’s programmes.

In Germany, there are polytechnics that offer technical training up to Doctorate levels. These are the institutions that produce human resources that deal with technical and practical aspects of a society. Whereas academic training is geared towards research, technical training gives traction to theory by practically implementing the research findings.

In the absence of the implementing wing of a society, all the great research findings will never see light of day. No wonder Kenya’s beautiful research papers are known to gather dust in office cabinets for lack of implementation.

Thus, if a holder of an Executive Master’s degree progressed successfully to an academic PhD, then I see at least three possibilities: a) the student must have worked exceptionally hard to master the theory of that discipline within time allowed for the course, b) the course itself was not very well structured, or d) the process was not rigorous, or quality assurance not properly done.

And last, we must appreciate that ‘entry behaviour’ does not necessarily determine exit behaviour in an academic process. Kenya’s best known Political Science export, the late Professor Ali Mazrui, did not qualify to join Form 5 in Kenya, but ended up being a “Global Intellectual Resource Person”. This is because learners mature at different times. Besides, there are fast learners and slow learners, and neither is necessarily better than the other. This is critical because our society is too fixated with achievement at the early stages in the academic ladder to appreciate practical issues in learning.

The West has already done enough research in Epistemology (branch of philosophy that investigates the origin, nature, methods, and limits of human knowledge), and now appreciates practical approaches to pedagogy (learning/teaching involving young learners) and andragogy (the method and practice of teaching adult learners). Perhaps, that’s what our policy makers too need to know.

The quality of training at Kenya’s universities must however, not be compromised at the altar of trying to accommodate different categories of learners.

Dr Okoth Ongore is a lecturer, researcher, author and social commentator