The quality of education in Kenya has been a subject of debate in recent times. These debates surround the content and approach of skills training and their relevance to the job market. Like many African countries, Kenya faces significant youth unemployment at about 35%, as well as high rates of underemployment and working poverty.
There has been rising interest in the need for ‘transferable skills’ training to enhance the overall quality of graduates from secondary schools and institutions of higher learning. Transferable skills have been proven excellent in developing youth to become productive citizens who can contribute to national socio-economic development. Not only do these skills prepare them to be good employees, but also creators of job opportunities.
A recent study by the MasterCard Foundation in collaboration with the African Institute for Development Policy (AFIDEP), reveals that transferable skills (also referred to as employability skills, soft skills, life skills or 21st century skills) are highly valued by employers and have been shown to significantly improve the quality of life. Transferable skills are defined as higher-order cognitive and non-cognitive skills that individuals can use to succeed in different situations in work and life. Students who possess transferable skills are better performers in school, at the work place and in life in general, and have the ability to switch between jobs and fields. Some of these skills include (but not limited to) critical thinking, problem solving, communication, collaboration and leadership skills, and entrepreneurship capabilities.
The study whose findings were published in March 2017, features three cases:
CAP-Youth Empowerment Institute (CAP-YEI), Kenya, an employability skills training programme incorporated by the government within the formal technical and vocational educational training (TVET) system; Akazi Kanoze, Rwanda, an employability skills programme designed by Education Development Center (EDC) for out-of-school youth, that was brought into the formal secondary school curriculum across Rwanda as part of the government’s education reforms; Senior Secondary Education Curriculum, Nigeria, a new curriculum that focuses on technical and transferable skills training designed and rolled out nationwide by the federal government.
Evidently, there are efforts to integrate transferable skills into education curricula at all levels. The three countries have/are reviewing their curriculum to integrate transferable skills in what is popularly referred to as ‘competency-based curriculum.’ The curriculum reforms are aimed at preparing youth with employability attributes – relevant knowledge, skills and personal attributes.
The three case studies present a variety of ways through which transferable skills can be integrated into formal curriculum at various levels of education. The Kenya case, for instance, focused on TVET level whereas the Rwanda and Nigeria cases were focused on secondary school curriculum. The education reform process in Kenya began in 2013, when the government signed into law a new TVET Act, which launched the transition to a Competency Based Education and Training (CBET) framework across TVET institutions. The reforms referred to the CAP-YEI’s Basic Employability Skills Training (BEST) programme as a model demonstrating the incorporation of skills training within the new competency-based education and training approach.
While Kenya and Rwanda have referred to ‘pilot’ projects initiated by non-governmental organisations in embedding transferable skills into TVET and secondary school curricula, Nigeria rolled out its senior secondary school curriculum nationwide without the benefit of successful pilot projects.
The study findings reveal key drivers of education reform in these countries as being, first, an enabling policy environment that presents a conducive platform for reforms. For Kenya, as in the case of Rwanda, the scale up of the CAP-YEI programme coincided with a period when education reform was ongoing.
The programme also benefited massively from champions within government who advocated for integration of transferable skills into TVET curricula taking example of successful models like CAP YEI’s BEST model. The contribution of champions at policy level was also seen in the Rwanda case.
The other contributing factor is evidence that transferable skills actually improve the employment prospects of youth. The Rwanda and Kenya cases revealed that youth who underwent transferable skills training programmes were about 12 percent more likely to be employed compared to those who did not.
An effective participatory approach to stakeholder engagement also gave the reforms a springboard for success as all the stakeholders, and particularly government, owned the reform processes fully.
While the curricula reforms are not devoid of challenges such as resource constraints and the uphill task of retraining of teachers and instructors in the new teaching methodology, the study reveals that curricula reforms for effective training can be successful when the drivers of reforms are taken into account
Going forward, it is recommended that governments prioritise training in the new teaching approaches that are learner-centered for effective integration of transferable skills. Assessment tools that reflect the competence nature of training are also needed beforehand. Other considerations include proper costing of reforms before undertaking large-scale implementation to avoid scenarios where education programmes stall midway due to financial constraints. Further, there is need for governments and other stakeholders to work in partnership and to embrace innovation through research and development, and experimentation in order to find the best structure and approach.