The raging debate emanating from institutions of higher learning in relation to the quality of contemporary graduates is evidence of the malaise afflicting our universities. Either we are in a transitory period and hence are confused about where we are headed or we have long lost the objectives for which the Kenyan education system was intended in the first place. At least the majority of academicians are in agreement that something urgently needs to be done. This is owing to the rising concern that it’s not only the lack of thinking skills but the emptiness of the knowledge pre-supposedly learnt in our institutions.
I underpin the problem of education because it appears to be the focal point towards which daggers are thrown in lieu to academic institutional social issues. I have consistently engaged in endless banter with my students concerning their life on campus. Reiterating on the need to have fun, I have always buttressed the fact that university life cannot be exchanged for any other rite of passage in the human cycle. My idea is that the students should learn and do so in an enjoyable manner as opposed to lower levels of learning where knowledge generation is fixated with a linear/vertical approach. In colleges/universities, learning is interactive, cross-sectional, diametrically interlinked and so on. This provides favourable environment for the students to “flout” traditionally entrenched modes of learning like the myth that the teacher is the alpha and omega of all knowledge. Here, a lecturer’s opinions can be quashed, a venue for learning can be transposed, and even the learning methodology can be altered depending on the occasion.
It is thus tragic to note that the inverse of learning in our institutions is true. Our students appear like zombies and the lecturers or mentors come across as apoplectic individuals who decry demotivation as the source of their indifference towards their mandate. Consequently, the students lack the requisite mentoring or parenting because even their parents have sacrificed the much needed parental care for economic gains or pursuits. Caught at the end of their wits, the parents continuously impress it upon their children the need to pursue a career oriented course. On their end, the students enroll for courses they care less about, thus retreating into exclusive clandestine activities on Facebook, iPods, tweeter, Whatsapp and other not so constructive technologically alluring activities.
No one thinks about skills, talents, creativity or imagination. Hence, in this progressively selfish society whose vision and economic development is hinged on technological advancement, we have sacrificed social and human needs for the sake of ‘professions’. As a result the students lack proper mentorship and they find themselves floundering aimlessly and eventually end up frustrated. The irate lecturer, frustrated by the lack of institutional support and increased economic challenges, is the last fortress the students can turn to. This renders our institutions as fertile ground for verbal tirades and jests between lecturers and students, lecturers letting off steam, or both students and lecturers spewing out vitriol directed at the administration and the government at large.
Feeling cornered and caged by an uncaring society, it is no wonder that the students turn into abusing and discriminating against each other. Therefore, instead of the university acting as a better world for the excitable young adults, it turns into culture shock when some of them discover the underworld activities of their peers. Everything that is illicit raging from alcohol, premarital sex, to drugs and other criminal activities begin to abound as the students seek for avenues to hit back at the negligent society. It is the resultant effects of abortions and at times suicide that eventually reveal the underbelly of our institutions of higher learning.
It is not surprising to hear some students reporting cases of bullying and other forms of abuse. For international students or lecturers, it is the language barrier and the attendant communication problems that becomes a nightmare. For the economically disadvantaged ones, it is the gaping disparities of affluence that ultimately lead to giving in when it comes to problems of peer pressure: prostitution, drug-peddling, violent demonstrations, recruitment into criminal and political gangs amongst others. The need for affirmation, identification, and the sweet feeling of the sense of belonging eventually prevails on some of the students to comprise on morality. At the end of it all, everyone stands to be indicted for the shortfalls of the social issues that pervade the corridors of higher learning in Kenya. (This article was 1st published in the DaystarConnect Magazine during the June 2013 Graduation)