From the day Kenya Certificate of Secondary School Education (KCSE) results were announced, acres upon acres of media space have been used to discuss top students, top schools, number of A’s, those who qualified to go to university, and the list is endless. I watched a TV station discuss this for a whopping 20 minutes and I asked myself, what of those over 600,000 students not in this bracket? What are they feeling?
Do not get me wrong, I am in no way saying that working hard and getting A’s is a bad thing! What I am opposed to is the glory we put on these few at the detriment of branding the others as “failures.” People are gifted in different ways. Good or bad grades are not the only determinant for success, or failure in life.
It is, therefore, high time that the conversation started changing. In the National Conference on Career Guidance that was held late last year, organised by the Career Guidance Institute (CGI) and the Kenya Institute of Curriculum Development, one of the guest speakers from the United States, Dr Trish Hatch, posed the following questions:
What if we moved away from a single test that is supposed to determine one's future college/career options and embraced self-awareness and self-assessments, career exploration, goal setting and action planning instead? What if we exposed students to as many career options as possible and move away from the ‘known’ limiting careers?
One writer in a recent press article said, “Kenyans have a right to get the full picture of how students have performed in national examinations. They need to know which schools have performed well and which ones have not.” So I asked myself two questions: 1) What are we doing about our under-performing schools? and 2) What is the value of this information?
I’ll leave the first question to the educationalists and policy makers. As for the second question, I feel that I have the expertise to answer as such: Examinations are just but one part of the whole. Many students are stressed and stigmatised if test scores are low. It even gets worse when they do not get into what the society calls ‘proper fields.’ To quote Dr. Hatch, “what if we exposed students to more options? Aren’t all careers important for the wellbeing of a society?”
It’s time that we accepted that we are all not “A” students. That not all students have academic prowess. That the economy will benefit from a diverse pool of workers if we allow students to choose professions that match their interests, skills and abilities.
I like giving an example of a typical family living in a house. The man may be an accountant and the wife an insurance broker. Think of all the workers that make their lives livable: They live in a house designed by an architect and built by engineers, costed by a quantity surveyor, constructed by stone masons, carpenters, painters, electricians, plumbers, tilers, to mention but a few. They dress in clothes designed by fashion designers, crafted by tailors using fabric sold by traders, manufactured at a factory, sold at stores. They eat breakfast, lunch and dinner from food grown by farmers, bought by traders, transformed by food processors, sold at supermarkets and by mama mbogas, cooked by chefs, served by waiters or waitresses. They may drive their own vehicle sold by a car dealer, serviced and maintained by a mechanic who uses parts bought at a store, imported by an importer. All these and many more vocations are important and have an essential role to play for a cohesive social-economic wellbeing.
Research has shown that there is a deepening mismatch between what is offered through our national educational system and the demand of the labour market. There is a shortage in skilled workforce in some sectors, while more and more people obtain qualifications that the labour market does not require, or others leave the school system without any professional qualifications whatsoever. The question that we stakeholders need to ask ourselves is how can we develop the infrastructure so each student has a better understanding of themselves and the world of opportunities, instead of trying to educate them all to become doctors, lawyers or engineers?
While releasing the KCSE results, it was refreshing to hear the Education Cabinet Secretary announce that the Government has “created opportunities for all the 747,161.” We should be celebrating all students as they prepare to transition into post-secondary school options. The fact is that not all will transit into the academic pathways. For the majority, there are amazing options: technical and vocational education and training (TVET), other colleges, entrepreneurship, apprenticeships, talent academies and military careers. What they end up pursuing is not as important as the fact that they are pursuing something to become responsible, productive members of our society.
A cohesive and professional career guidance counselling system needs to be integrated in every public and private learning institution; from Early Years, Junior Secondary, and Senior School to tertiary institutions, including technical and vocational institutions, colleges and universities. In-depth understanding of one’s talents, abilities, skills and interests empowers and enables a young person to navigate the transitions and the world of work more effectively.
It’s time we transition to fostering a purpose-driven approach for our children,” so ALL can excel in their desired future!
Margaret Waithaka is the board chair of Career Guidance Institute, the association of career guidance practitioners in Kenya.