John is a form four student in a national school. In about three months, he will be seated in the school hall with his 200 fellow classmates doing the final national high school examination. It will take three weeks to complete all 16 exams. Two months after completing the examination, he will be staring at a text message from the Kenya National Examination Council briefly informing him of his performance.
John is smart! He expects to score a mean grade of ‘A’ to secure him a slot at the University of Nairobi, the 6th sort after university in Africa (The Journals consortium 2016 report) and the top ranked university in Kenya. Fast forward; the press will have a field day with him. They will ask him what he will want to study at the university. He will respond with a smile that he will be studying engineering. He will not have a clue what an engineer does but his high school class teacher always mentioned it and his father had mentioned it a few times. The people holding him up on their shoulders will shout in agreement. The press and the whole country will not be surprised.
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Two years in the university, life will take toll on John at the university. He will be worn out from all the classes and engineering practicals. He will be one supplementary away from being suspended for one year for academic failure.
John’s story, although fictional, may be telling hundreds of unspoken stories at the Kenyan universities. In 2015, the then just newly established Kenya Universities and Colleges central placement services CEO John Muraguri expressed concern over students making applications for a handful of courses leaving other courses with few if any applications. The result of that was 20, 000 students being placed in courses they had not selected in order to balance the situation.
A few months later, the body tightened their regulations on changing of course. The grounds for changing of courses were narrowed to marginalization, affirmative action and health. In June 2014, a year before the new KUCCPS regulation, the Inter-University council for East Africa had released a survey that placed 51% of the Kenyan graduate unfit for the job market.
With this sad situation as the status quo in the country, John’s story continues to be less fictional. These facts create a face. The 4 years in high school are formative years in Kenyan culture. The narrative hardly changes; work hard, get an ‘A’ and life will work itself out. The few who manage to juggle between adolescence, tight schedules and the harsh school conditions are tossed into the university rollercoaster. It is then they realize that the enigma attached to the much sort after careers is a fairy tale.
What if John had the chance of evaluating himself earlier on? A possibility of getting insight into his personality and shedding light into his purpose. The idea isn’t farfetched. A psychometric test is a tool that is often used by psychologists to measure an individual’s mental capability and behavioral style.
The Institute of Psychometric Coaching defines how it works by stating “They (psychometric tests) identify the extent to which candidate’s suitability for a role based on the required personality characteristics and aptitude.”
To put it in context, if John had done such a test while in high school, he would have probably realised that he was not a hands on individual but rather an individual who would fit in a social science field such as law. The tool is slowly being embraced in Kenya after its effectiveness in developed nation’s education sector.
However, the Kenyan curriculum has placed emphasis on passing subjects and has overlooked individual interests and passions. It generalizes the students and gives them little option outside science related fields. This is no different from students who get the rare chance of studying courses in line with their interests. A student may be excited by a certain profession but the interest fades off while studying for it. If the student had prior engagement with the profession in high school, the interest would probably have faded off then and would have saved time and resources.
After taking the career test and finding out his career alignment, John would have gone for a workplace experience or job shadow in the area of social sciences.
Work shadowing isn’t a popular concept here in the country but in developed countries it is not a strange concept. Work shadowing involves individuals learning the ropes of a certain career by walking through an ordinary day with a professional in the career of interest. Junior achievement is one of the largest organizations in the world that largely help students get work experience. The organization puts a great emphasis on work shadowing.
A research conducted by Junior Achievement on work shadowing states that 90 per cent of the students felt the experience made them aware of their career options. 88 per cent of the students after the job shadow felt they had realized the importance of staying in school. Another research by Junior Achievement on rate of school dropout had 69 per cent of the respondents saying that they lacked motivation to stay in school.
The findings of the research by junior achievement on work shadowing not only shed a light to our university graduates inefficiency but also may be the solution to the close to 58 per cent drop out by students before reaching form four in Kenya (statistic by Nation Newsplex and institute of Economic Affairs)
Interestingly, the Kenya’s curriculum has incorporated career guidance. According to a research by Quinter Migunde, Lucas Othuon and Catherene Mbagaya on career maturity and career decision making status of secondary student in Kisumu shows that the 94 per cent of careers teachers are tasked with other responsibilities and rarely attend to the career guidance duties. The teachers also have no formal training on career counseling. Like John, the Kenya student is therefore being left to wonder on his own.
The reforms on education being spear headed by Kenya Institute for Curriculum Development are noble and are making significant changes to the education sector. The new recommendations are that all schools will have a guidance and counseling office with a trained Career Master. At the heart of this is the desire to enable and empower young people to identify their passions, develop the resilience and career management skills to make and implement career decisions and to overcome the barriers which they face to achieve their dreams.
Margaret Waithaka is the Executive Director of Discover Your Career and author of Discover Your Career Workbook. Bonface Gitaua, an intern at Discover Your Career, also contributed to this report.