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Separating the wheat from the chaff in Kenya’s education sector

Kenya National Qualifications Authority (KNQA) is in the middle of the crucial process of restoring the worth of a certificate in Kenya.

BY DERRICK VIKIRU

Saying the Kenya National Qualifications Authority (KNQA) is the second-best thing that happened to this country’s education sector after sliced bread is an understatement. The critical role of this authority in restoring sanity to the Kenyan education system is so paramount that it not only needs a Sith Lord kind of power and force to drive it but also extensive collaboration among various stakeholders in the education and professional certification sectors. The powerful authority plays the role of a custodian of Kenyan qualifications, streamlining them to be in congruence with the requirements of the Kenya National Qualification Framework (KNQF) provided for in the constitution through the KNQF Act of 2014, from which the Authority draws its mandate. The Management Magazine had a chat with KNQA Director General/CEO Dr Juma Mukwhana (PhD), a tough-talking veterinary doctor with a difficult middle name, on what the Authority envisions to achieve as far as the credibility of Kenyan education qualification is concerned.

He starts us off with his rich educational background and extensive work experience both in Agriculture and Education sectors. Armed with a bachelor’s degree in Veterinary medicine, Master’s degree in Pharmacology and toxicology both from University of Nairobi (UoN) and a Doctor of Philosophy in soil science from Wyoming University in USA, he ventured in an agricultural career that traversed through different non-governmental organisations in Africa and the United States. His stint in the education sector was in 2013 when he was appointed the deputy CEO of the Commission for University Education (CUE). “At CUE, I oversaw Planning, Research and Development. Largely, I have focused on education leadership and management and policy development to support transformation of education in Kenya,” he states.

Now that he is at the helm of KNQA, he says that is core role is to ensure that the authority delivers on its constitutional mandate. “The Authority’s work is to define the various qualifications offered in the country and the interrelationships between them. We regulate the volume of learning, learning outcomes and admission requirements for all qualifications in Kenya. The work of the Authority cuts across Entry Level qualifications to the Higher-Level qualifications and vocational training and work-related qualifications; and includes accrediting, and registering Qualifications Awarding Institutions, Professional bodies, External Quality assurance agencies, as well as local and foreign assessment and examination bodies into the KNQF. Through this accreditation of qualifications and registering them into the KNQF makes them national qualifications that are internationally recognised and respected,” said Dr Mukhwana.

Setting education standards

Effective educational standards in Kenya define a common core of learning for all students and require students to reach common levels of performance and achievement. Kenya is gearing up to achieving this through the regulations and provision by the ministry of education and the constitution of Kenya on quality education. Across the country, Ministry of Education is mandating more rigorous academic standards and instituting strict assessment procedures to ensure that students meet those standards. And the stress of accountability lies with KNQA. The Authority is mandated by law to assess and set these standards and implement them in Kenyan institutions. “We set national standards for accreditation in the country, standards for quality assurance and standards for assessment and examination,” Dr Mukhwana tells us. 

Forewarned

In his speech Dr Mukhwana doesn’t sound like a person who imposes rules and bulldozes his way through to see them effected. But underneath the composed tone is a deep-seated strategy to start an onslaught on holders of fake certificates in Kenya and institutions that have no legal mandate to issue them. From our conversation I could feel that holders of fake certificates and their respective issuing institutions have been forewarned. They will soon have it rough as a framework to crackdown on these has been operationalised. This is in line with the then Education Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiangi’s strategy to reform the Kenyan education system. During the KNQA launch Matiang’i said that the war against fake certificates has officially began and urged academic institutions to be careful when awarding certificates to their students. Keen on carrying on this war, Mukhwana hinted that the authority is developing a database to keep track of academic qualifications to eliminate fake credentials and facilitate easy verification of academic papers presented to the Council of University Education (CUE) and KNQA. “The database will hold information on registered unit standards, registered qualification, accredited education and training providers, validated learning programmes, recognised foreign qualifications, learner records and other particulars necessary,” said Mukhwana. “It will be easier to go online and find out where one studied, how long they took and when they graduated,” he added.

Quality human capital

Dr Mukhwana asserts that all these efforts are in place to make sure that Kenya produces quality human capital that is suitable to work in any part of the world. Therefore, the authority is recognising prior learning that could be academic or through experience. He says the organisation has a model to rope into the KNQF years of experience and expertise and quantify these into a grade. In a paraphrased version Mukwhana noted that “Due to lack of recognised qualifications, many people face severe disadvantages in getting decent jobs, and even accessing further education, even though they might have the necessary knowledge and skills.” It is worth noting that in most African countries especially sub-Saharan Africa, there is a huge high school dropout rate, leading many of the students to acquire workplace skills through informal means. Consequently, they face significant challenges in gaining meaningful employment and even furthering their education. But through KNQA, they can apply for their qualifications to be graded and even continue with education to the highest attainable level possible.

With all these policies at implementation stage, I do believe that KNQA is poised to slay the dragon of malpractices and fake certificates syndicate and substandard quality in Kenyan education.

Derrick Vikiru is the Sub editor Management Magazine. Email: dvikiru@kim.ac.ke

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