Standardisation dilemma in Kenyan higher education

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Standardisation dilemma in Kenyan higher education

In Summary

  • Proponents argue that if all university students learn the same lessons, read the same materials, and get examined the same way, then quality education for employers can be assured.
  • The world does not need cookie-cutter solutions from cookie-cutter leaders originating from generic cookie-cutter universities.
  • If we can cling to any hope of deliverance from the myriad of 21st century problems, then we need the best and brightest enlightening and empowering the next generation of leaders in creative formats.
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By SCOTT BELLOWS
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A pendulum swings back and forth from one extreme to another. Here in Kenya, the pendulum of tertiary education pressures also swings shifting from its equilib rium.

We often complain about the lack of employability of university graduates. However, we also take steps to erode and diminish the ability of instructors to teach and examine students in innovative, cutting-edge, and relevant ways.

CURRICULUM

One method utilised by some to improve student learning involves curriculum standardisation.

Proponents argue that if all university students learn the same lessons, read the same materials, and get examined the same way, then quality education for employers can be assured.

However, university standardisation represents one of the most repugnant, useless, and self-defeating ideas in modern tertiary education.

What if society required that all painters utilise the same brush strokes, colours, and canvas? Would such standardisation enhance or diminish the quality of fine art?

Paul Zeleza notes in his research the push and pull between standardisation verses flexibility of learning as a reaction to globalisation pressures and demands from society.

Marie Bjerede argues that education standardisation, while useful for lower costs and ease of scaling while satisfying the uncritical shallow gaze of politicians, actually instead contributes to student disengagement and an inefficient mismatch for unique student learning.

Carl Cargill’s research highlights that those creating education standards work with imperfect knowledge, high economic incentives, shifting relationships, and usually short-sighted planning.

A movement in higher education institutions in Kenya desires all sections of a course to lecture the same content and even a push for standardisation across universities themselves.

In such a scenario, lecturers should utilise pre-packaged materials only and give the same exams, thus heightening the possibility of corruption, complacency, and irrelevance.

Then why require lecturers to hold the highest attainable degrees in their fi elds if they simply should become regurgitation robots?

CREATIVITY

An economist schooled at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business holds a fundamental different economic philosophy from one trained at the London School of Economics. Why stifle viewpoints?

Every week, thousands of research studies surface with innovative new ways of looking at theories, cause and effect relationships, and methodologies. Why limit the creativity that students have access to in a university classroom? In the North American tertiary education system, lecturers hold power, authority, and autonomy.

They can choose their textbooks, teaching methodology, assignments, readings, and examinations while staying within the broad learning outcomes for a course. The lecturer decides how best to achieve the course learning outcomes.

Instead of stifling lecturer creativity, they are instead held to account. Take Colorado State University as an example.

< p>If at least 70 per cent of students on an examination do not answer a question properly, then the question is removed from the exam and not included in the total because it is assumed that the faculty did not adequately teach the concept.

Further, examinations there often include multiple questions covering numerous topics instead of students gambling with a few faculty questions hoping that the limited examined questions capture one of the areas that the student has read.

While not mimicking America, how can we foster our own unique Kenyan quality thresholds without dropping ourselves to the lowest common denominator of distasteful standardisation?

The world does not need cookie-cutter solutions from cookie-cutter leaders originating from generic cookie-cutter universities.

If we can cling to any hope of deliverance from the myriad of 21st century problems, then we need the best and brightest enlightening and empowering the next generation of leaders in cr eative formats.

***

This article was first published in the Business Daily.

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