Post-pandemic, in a world moving with speed in technological advancements, skill upgrading and relevance, knowledge acquisition and research-based approaches, resilience in education, innovation, and research continue to grow, especially against the backdrop of the lessons bagged throughout the covid-19 experience.
To warm up for the demands of the current and future trends in education, social sciences, and business through research, technology and innovation, the Education and Social Sciences Research Association of Kenya (ESSRAK) held its 3rd Annual Virtual International Research Conference on November 24, 2022.
The conference, informed by a family of researchers, sought to reminisce the past experiences in the academic world, monitor the progress nationally and internationally and write, through research-based findings, the subsequent chapters of the academic and research story.
Spinning on the theme “Building Resilience in Education and Social Sciences Research through Technology and Innovation,” the house of academicians and researchers keenly noted that while advancements in education and research-related quarters have been evident over the years, a dynamic approach and the integration of technology and innovation is the next bolt needing to be tightened for more relevant teaching and learning experiences.
In their goodwill messages, the speakers underlined the need for diversified approaches to knowledge acquisition through teaching and learning, cooperation in conducting multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary research, and embracing technology and innovation in education and social sciences.
Dr. Yazidi Mwiswa of Mbeya University of Science & Technology, Tanzania, championed more collaborations at individual and institutional levels.
“We look forward to partnering with Mbeya University and even holding a joint conference on advancing education,” said Prof. Kuria Wamukuru, the session’s ESSRAK Conference Coordinator and General Secretary, Educational Management Society of Kenya (EMSK) in response to Dr. Mwiswa.
Undoubtedly, research requires funding. “How then can we conduct research without proper and regular funding?” you may ask.
“We should not be ashamed to call our national governments for research funding, for without funds, research cannot be done,” urged Edith Ng’oma, Chair, International Development Committee- Africa (IDC-A), Zambia.
She revealed that IDC-A is determined to upgrade Africans’ literacy levels, foreshadowing the forthcoming Literacy Conference next year.
She noted that ESSRAK and Africa have so many research opportunities which require proper utilization for productivity on innovation and technology, research and education.
Technology in building resilience
In such spaces, exhibitions prove that someone somewhere is putting in extra effort to bring something new to the market.
David Kamau is a 19-year-old engineer and inventor of the ‘Android Canis Familiaris’ Robot, a Military Grade Application and Security Breach Detector.
While presenting his exhibition, he said he has taken seven years to come up with the robot, a prototype of the possible robot which, with time and if adopted by the Kenyan military, will see mass production of the same.
The robot is designed to detect bombs, different explosives and other dangerous weapons threatening the security of humanity.
It is programmed to boost the military ability to catch hold of any security detail which would have otherwise escaped them.
“We can make a machine able to code and program itself. I dream of a technology-driven Africa,” he revealed.
Mr. Dan Njiriri is one of Kamau’s trainers on robotic technology at Lish AI Labs, Nakuru, Kenya.
“We mentor young students and make them Artificial Intelligence (AI) workers,” he said while presenting his guest speech on the Role of Technology in Resolving Unemployment.
The young minds develop robotics usable in sorting and packaging items in supermarkets and other industries, with pinpoint precision and speed.
Mainly working for foreign AI companies, Lish has seen almost KSh 2.3-3.5 million foreign currency injected into Nakuru County’s economy.
While contributing to resilience in education and social sciences research through technology and innovation, the labs train young brains to work online for AI and robotic agencies in agriculture, business and transport areas, among others.
The Open University of Kenya
To seamlessly further education in Kenya, the conference brought to mind that the time for establishing an Open University has never been as accurate.
“Open Universities admit learners with none or very minimal academic qualifications; they study and get examined fully online,” explained Moses Thiga in his presentation on The Conceptual Framework of Operationalizing the National Open University of Kenya.
Noting that, like physical universities, establishing an Open University requires all educational, administrative, and government policies and other requirements, he revealed that several Open Universities available globally rarely offer education indiscriminately as needed.
Some are ‘Open’ by name and not practice.
“This is a journey which we hope the Presidential Education Reforms Taskforce will adopt the Open University concept and think through,” he hoped.
In an Open University, “… authentic assessment is key,” says Dr. Mary Ooko, Manager, Unit for Distance Education, University of Pretoria, South Africa.
She explained that the instructors have to prepare and upload the educational content before the semester begins; introductory videos, textbooks, course details, the content and tests, using a Learning Management System.
That allows learners to fully engage with the complete content of the course.
“With education and technological trends changing continuously, regular training remains paramount,” she said, adding that at the University of Pretoria, they pay the e-tutors for attending such trainings, preparing and uploading the content on the system for students, and marking the examinations.
They then understand the system, integrate technology into it, create relevant, high-quality content, and interact with learners regularly.
In Kenya, “We want to set up an Open University not because others have, but to widen academic access, improve quality and manage costs,” she said.
Educational resilience lessons post-pandemic
Lockdown overturned physical learning, requiring institutions to adopt and cope with online learning, making minds appreciate technology’s power.
Educational resilience enables people to succeed despite environmental, health, or financial factors.
According to Prof. Martin Oliver, Professor of Education and Technology at the University College London (UCL) Institute of Education (IoE), United Kingdom, technology is a vital resource in academic resilience.
Delivering the Keynote Speech, he noted that the pandemic taught us that education can persist in trying moments; “…teachers coped, creatively, students coped, not always but in encouraging numbers.”
Technology is essential; we learned that communities, homes and individuals can adapt.
The resilience, however, was from individuals, not the technology, though the latter was the staircase.
For educational resilience, “Governments should provide more resources such as affordable internet, library services and other learning materials for equality,” advises Prof. Oliver.
He says that the right technology should be fluid, allowing users to control and configure the applications and devices according to their needs rather than having them controlled only by the developers and owners.
Lest we forget, turning back to pre-pandemic life, “We should keep the stories alive for posterity, encouraging people to think deeper. We have to recoil from complacency and think of better innovations,” he urged.
Contextualizing Kenya’s education
In the breakout rooms, the professionals unpacked diverse packages of research-based knowledge, unlocking possibilities in education, social sciences and research circles in Kenya towards Vision 2030.
Competency-Based Curriculum (CBC) and Competency-Based Assessment (CBA) have been on the discussion table for some time now, even as Presidential Education Reforms Taskforce continues to consolidate diverse thoughts on the way forward.
Research by Mr. Edwin Kubai, Quality Assurance Officer Kenya National Examinations Council (KNEC), shows that 85% of teachers have information on CBC.
93% of Grade Six teachers are already trained in CBC and CBA. However, a significant percentage remains reluctant to conduct the assessment part of it because of the evident challenges.
Unclear legislative policies on CBC and CBA, inadequate teachers and resources have been dragging education efforts in Kenya, according to Mr. Kubai.
In Kenya’s rural and marginalized areas, Education Technology remains scanty.
“EdTech should be adopted in CBC for it’s key to innovative minds and invention towards self-reliance,” observes Dr. Getrude Malala & Prof. Henry Onderi in their research on the Role of EdTech in Implementation and Sustainability of Competency-Based Curriculum.
EdTech would ensure teachers are adequately equipped with 21st Century skills.
An analysis of Kenya’s progress towards a knowledge-based society by Prof. Jane Kerubo shows that Kenya, striving to become a middle-income country, recognizes education as a key driver to that status.
She’s a Professor of Education at Kirinyaga University.
A knowledge-based society is achieved through quality, quantity and accessibility of information.
The technological revolution has allowed seamless access to information while globalization demands skilled workers for ideas and knowledge flow.
“Kenya should leverage on ICT for increased competitiveness,” says Prof. Kerubo, acknowledging that the lack of an institutional and legal framework to implement automated services in education has been a thorn in the flesh.
Beyond collaborations among universities to provide education and research training, she recommends universities to monitor current and future trends in the labor market before launching courses.
The government launched the Open, Distance and e-Learning (ODeL) policy 2018-2022 to strengthen and expand learning in all universities in Kenya.
In e-learning, the quality of courses, affordability and adequacy of the internet, learner support, and the right operational e-learning policies are key.
“Key stakeholders- employers, sector regulator, students, etc- should be engaged for participatory development of e-learning quality assurance,” recommend Dr. Daniel Karanja and Mary Ooko in their research on E-learning in Kenya, Quality Assurance Framework.
They underline the need to engage scholars in bridging the gap between inadequate e-learning and teaching skills, operational e-learning policies and content development.
The conference had “…increased diversity in presentations ad engagements, a great change and improvements,” Prof. Dankit Nassiuma, Vice Chancellor Africa International University, noted.
Bolding the essence of professionalism, integrity and quality in research, he added, “Academia grows through research and innovation. We are finding local solutions to local problems and global solutions to global problems. ESSRAK is pushing for that.”
ESSRAK is an association of scholars in three fields: Education, Business, and Humanities & Social Sciences. These scholars mostly rely on similar methodologies, approaches and research techniques.
“ESSRAK’s main aim is promoting good practices in these research practices, dissemination of the outcomes, plus their proper application,” explains Dr. Daniel Karanja, one of the Conference Coordinators.
In Education, the papers revolved around CBC issues: implementation, teacher capacities and pupils’ preparedness for Junior Secondary School. Humanities/Social Sciences papers were around issues such as English language competencies, Role of Oral Literature (songs) in children’s development and Digital Interventions in enabling family environments for children in correctional facilities.
In Business, topics around SACCO regulations impacts, Accountability of public funds were covered, among many others.
“The guest speeches revolved around Model Open Universities; Role of Artificial Intelligence in creating employment while the Keynote Speech focused on the Resilience exhibited by universities during the Covid-19 pandemic and how it can be utilized to survive other turbulences,” notes Dr. Karanja, a don at Egerton University.