Kenya’s higher education system is facing significant challenges, including inadequate funding, limited access to quality education, and a lack of skilled workforce to support the country’s economic growth.
In order to address these challenges, there is a need to rethink the traditional model of university education and explore alternative learning and financing mechanisms.
One such alternative is the concept of an “Open University,” where students can access education through various channels, including online courses, distance learning, and blended learning.
This approach allows for greater flexibility and accessibility, particularly for students in rural and underserved areas.
During the Jamhuri Day celebrations, President William Ruto addressed the nation and declared that implementing this model was a priority for his administration.
In Kenya, the idea is actually not new. The University of Nairobi and Kenyatta University used this model with varying degrees of success and failure, providing us with a solid basis for considering our options.
Open Distance and e-Learning (ODeL) programs in Kenya did not meet expectations, with low enrollment and high dropout rates.
There are several reasons for this failure, including inadequate infrastructure, a lack of support from institutions, and poor implementation of the programs.
One of the major challenges facing ODeL programs in Kenya is the lack of reliable and affordable internet connectivity.
Many students in rural areas do not have access to the internet, which hinders their ability to participate in online classes and access course materials.
Additionally, the high cost of internet services in Kenya makes it difficult for many students to afford the necessary data bundles to access online courses.
Another factor contributing to the failure of open learning programs in Kenya was the need for more support from institutions.
Many institutions did not provide adequate training and support for students and lecturers, which resulted in poor learning outcomes.
In addition, there needed to be more coordination and collaboration between institutions, which made it difficult for students to transfer credits and continue their education in instances where they were moving from one location to another.
Furthermore, the poor implementation of open learning programs also contributed to their failure.
The institutions did not have clear policies and guidelines for the delivery of online courses, resulting in confusion and inconsistency in the learning experience.
Additionally, the lack of adequate monitoring and evaluation systems hindered the ability to assess the effectiveness of these programs and make necessary improvements.
To address these challenges and improve the success of Open University programs in Kenya, the new administration could consider a raft of strategies underpinned by a robust and forward-looking policy.
First, the government needs to invest in infrastructure development, including the expansion of internet connectivity in rural areas.
I hope the proposed internet fiber superhighway will appreciate the gaps in connection to the electricity grid to make this a reality.
Secondly, institutions need to provide adequate training and support for students and lecturers, as well as establish solid collaborations and partnerships.
Collaborations and partnerships with other entities in Africa and other countries where this model is working are sure ways of replicating success.
The work with Arizona State University’s Thunderbird School of Global Management-Africa could open a new frontier to make this a reality, especially in the area of supporting faculty staff in Kenya to adopt some of the e-learning methodologies they are using.
Finally, clear policies and guidelines need to be put in place for the delivery of online courses, along with effective monitoring and evaluation systems.
With these measures in place, open learning programs in Kenya can be more successful and contribute to the advancement of education in the country.
I look forward to the report of the task-force on education reforms, which I hope will also have the policy dimensions in perspective.
Adopting a mixed-model approach where the Open University works in partnership with traditional universities and other institutions to provide high-quality education and support could also offer a robust pathway for sharing resources and expertise and collaborating on research and development projects.
In terms of financing, the Open University model could leverage a range of sources, including government funding, private investment, and student fees.
The government could also provide incentives for institutions to adopt the Open University model, such as tax breaks and grants. Another area for consideration is incentivizing private equity firms to invest in higher education.
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Overall, the implementation of an Open University model in Kenya has the potential to address many of the challenges facing the higher education system and support the country’s economic growth.
However, the policy dimensions of this approach must be carefully considered and addressed in order to ensure its success.