It is no exaggeration to observe that higher education in East Africa is in dire straits. So much has been said about this subject that some people say it is in deep turmoil and yet others have simply given up.
Be it as it may, burying our heads in the sand may not and cannot be the solution to this increasingly disturbing phenomenon of deteriorating standards of higher education.
Where the crisis is most demonstrated is in the declining quality standards, fiscal challenges, overcrowded lecture rooms, poor faculty moral, outdated curricula and frightening levels of unemployment among university graduates.
This state of affairs is not about to stop here. The crisis is further manifested in the deteriorating infrastructures—dilapidated buildings, near-collapsed libraries and ill-equipped laboratories- and the ongoing brain drain.
Traditional government support systems can no longer cope with the severe problems that have undermined East Africa’s systems of higher education, and alternative solutions suggested by international aid organizations have not fared any better either.
There is plenty of room for dissatisfaction with the current state of our schools throughout this region.
An awful lot is wrong with them: the way conformity is valued over curiosity and enforced with rewards and punishment; the way children are compelled to compete against one another as if they are in a marathon; the manner in which the curriculum so often privileges skills over meaning; a system in which students are prevented from designing their own learning; instruction and assessment are increasingly standardized; different avenues of study are rarely integrated or explored; and educators are systematically deskilled, to mention but a few.
Making schools akin to businesses often results in a kind of pedagogy that is not merely conservative but reactionary, turning off the clock. You may be surprised to learn that many children hate school and just get through it as quickly and as mediocrely as they can.
Perhaps the reason is that their specific likes and dislikes or personal learning styles are never taken into consideration.
It would be foolish if not foolhardy to pretend all is well and perfect. We need to re-introduce the old-fashioned discipline, holding parents to account for their children, promoting competitive sports and properly preparing students for examinations.
There is a dire need to introduce Literature, Fine Art, Sports, Music and Technical Drawing as part of our School Curricula. We do not know how much we are losing and sacrificing for the future generation on the altar of conformity.
The subjects mentioned can foster confidence and discipline, leadership and team spiritas well as a diversity of skills. Participating in sports has for instance long-term social and educational benefits. Literature develops critical analytical thinking, nurtures creativity, problem solving and comprehension and is an integral foundational subject for humanities and arts programs like law.
Why should we be surprised about lack of a reading culture when our children do not read literature books but prefer to be glued on the expensive smartphones and play toys provided by their well to do parents?
It has been argued that the kind of minds we develop are profoundly influenced by the opportunities to learn that a school nurtures and provides.
Teacher autonomy and commitment are central to the establishment of motivating educational experiences that foster the development of creativity and critical thinking.
Sadly, the cultural meaning of schooling has radically changed and is now more explicitly geared to performance and results.Performance has now emerged as a dominant goalpost in modern schooling, often at the cost of more critical educational encounters.
Schools and institutions of higher learning as sites of social production and reproduction, have not escaped the influence of free market economics. This is close to what someone called “free-market diploma mills or corporate experiments in education”.
We are freely and gleefully producing graduates with papers whose value we may not be able to account for in the not too distant future.
In the current climate of market-oriented globalization, private institutions of higher education that enhance the employability of their graduates are attracting students, regardless of the quality of these professionals being churned out.
As the unemployment rate among traditional arts and sciences graduates continues to climb, it is not surprising that private universities that promise jobs are becoming increasingly popular.
As public universities in the region verge on a state of collapse, private universities have become an alternative route for many students, especially those who come from wealthy families, to gain access to higher education.
These once prestigious and reputablepublic universities are quickly degenerating into common market places sacrificing quality at the altar of quantity and thus losing the competitive edge they provided in the academic arena.
This has led to a mushrooming of ‘kiosk likeprivate universities’ whose inherent danger is that they tend to only benefit specific groups within the student population.
Certain segments of the communities, especially the wealthy have access to private institutions, something that will inevitably lead to further social fragmentation of the region.
With more and more education systems around the world embracing market-oriented approaches to become more competitive, our East African region risks jumping on the bandwagon leading to a proliferation of university education, which may become universal university education (sic!) if the current trend continues.