What you need to know:
Financial woes are the most common reason why students drop out of college
Higher education is viewed as the entry point to the labour market. Unfortunately, for some, stars fail to align and they end up dropping out of college or university.
This often extinguishes the hope of families who might have sacrificed a better quality of life by selling land and livestock to raise school fees with an expectation that their son or daughter will ‘pay back’ once they graduate and find a paying job.
While many young people find it hard to earn a living after dropping out of school whatever the reason, others quickly find their footing and use their talents to make money.
This week, three youth relive their experience after dropping out of college and share how they managed to establish careers they hadn’t trained for.
LARRY ONG’ANYI, 23, PHOTOGRAPHER, KISUMU
My father died in 2016 while I was preparing to write Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education examinations. He was our sole breadwinner.
When I joined Kisumu National Polytechnic to study a diploma in civil engineering in September 2017, my mother had taken up my father’s role.
I was passionate about my studies. It was in college that I met my would-be wife, and what started as dating soon morphed into a serious relationship. At the beginning of 2018, my partner got pregnant.
Six months into the pregnancy, I did some soul searching… I was proud of my mother pushing through thick and thin to see me through college, but I didn’t want to burden her with raising a grandchild too.
I also dreaded the thought of being an irresponsible father, I swore never to be called a ‘dead beat’ dad, so I had to remedy the situation by all means.
After sitting my examinations in July, as I started my industrial attachment, I had made the unlikely decision to drop out of college and start a business to support my young family.
The decision came easy for me, but it took a month to break it to my mother, I knew she would be disappointed. I was borrowing time to come up with a solid business idea that would help me make her understand my predicament.
I settled on photography as my venture. You see, while in college, I observed the love students had for photoshoots as a pastime activity and I wanted to monetise this. My biggest problem was that I did not know how to go about the business.
My favorite hangout spot back then was a recreation park in town, it’s here that I would befriend a commercial photographer and together, we developed a symbiotic relationship. I would source for clients, mostly friends, from my former campus and he would in turn teach me the innings of the industry.
He introduced me to the dos and don'ts of the game, the art of taking pictures, and the business module. At the time, our clientele was mostly students who didn’t pay much.
In December 2019, I bumped into a more organised team with an established name - Alpha Photography. Their bosses described me as a go-getter who stood out from the crowd of budding photographers. I joined them.
Here, I was offered sophisticated photography equipment that was hard to come by, on condition that I promote their brand. It seemed like a lucrative offer because I had nothing to my name then. Another advantage is that they had a stable clientele base with deeper pockets, which would translate to better income for me.
I moved from not only doing portraiture photography into the more lucrative events shoots. Having joined at the peak season of photography in December, I handled many jobs that earned me money and exposure.
Six months later, I had saved enough to acquire my own equipment, and in another six months, with enough experience gathered, I branched-out and formed my own company - Salman Arts Photography.
Despite starting at the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020, I managed to acquire more equipment and developed creative promotional shoots to upstage existing brands.
Since I dropped out, I haven’t had a lot of challenges. I have been able to support my family from the proceeds of the business and acquired extra equipment to further my brand. As a way of creating employment, I normally hire my two friends to help me whenever I get big jobs.
My dream is to open more side businesses to supplement my photography business. I have since diversified to offer additional products such as photo mounts. I have also built my portfolio from working with several civil organisations, law firms and events and organisers.
LATIFA NOOR,24, SOFTWARE DEVELOPER/DIGITAL MARKETER, MOMBASA
When the KCSE results were released in 2016, my classmates were eager to join institutions of higher learning. My story was, however, different; I wasn’t as eager to join college.
Back home, I was raised by a single mother of five. Completing high school came with many financial struggles. With two of my other siblings still in school, I saw it as selfish of me to proceed to college when the two were at a more critical stage.
I shelved my dream of becoming a forensic scientist and embarked on a job that earned me Sh6,000 a month.
Over a period, I felt unchallenged and craved something more fulfilling. So, with my little savings, I registered at a local college in 2018 to study computer packages. During the course, I found a social media announcement of intake at a technology hub for girls called Pwani Teknowgalz.
The institution had had outreaches at my high school to push for study of science and mathematics subjects. They used the opportunity to encourage girls into the tech world, it is here that I fell in love with technology.
I joined and learnt different tech modules. The problem was that taking extra modules needed monthly tuition fees, which I couldn’t afford. So I devised a method to eavesdrop on lessons using a borrowed laptop. My enthusiasm would see the startup directors enroll me as one of their first beneficiaries.
I now had a chance to study coding, computer languages, Cisco and a whole lot of other interesting technology programmes for free.
To give back, I came in early to do housekeeping chores. I was outspoken, a great storyteller and good at making friends. Impressed by my people-relations skills, in 2019, the directors at Swahili Pot Hub, the centre that hosted many creative startups, including Pwani Teknowgalz, offered me a job to be the community director at the community-based organisation.
Still at Pwani Teknowgalz, I joined their outreach programs to mentor school girls on technology. They also started computer packages for adult classes and with the certificate earned, I was made a teacher and was now earning from both jobs. I could now support my family.
With my tech background, I joined another company, Tech Kidz Africa, where I mentored and taught children matters technology, which earned me more money. I also made use of my networking skills to offer consult for a host of other startups at the hub.
At this point I had learnt too much, felt contented and had forgotten about going to college.
In between, I had applied for a Google scholarship and out of 10,000 applications from East Africa, I was among the lucky 700 selected for the back-end technology course. This gave me momentum to apply for more Google scholarships, and with every certificate, I aired my acquired abilities to the job market.
My latest is a certificate on communication that has since earned me a job as the communication director at Teknowgalz. I also do digital marketing and help propel new brands through content creation services.
University education is not the deal-breaker; one should not curse their parents for not being able to take them to college, however sad a fact it is. In all my successes, I also have faced challenges getting jobs because of a lack of papers.
I continue to inspire girls who have dropped out of school for whatever reason, including pregnancy. There are nights I cried myself to sleep but I have since picked myself up. My hunger for success has landed me in a good space where I can now fend for myself.
REAGAN OKOTH,22, FOOTBALLER, KISUMU
Raised by my mother, I lived a fulfilling life as a child, but I always had to fight for my space. I am the fourth born in a family of six siblings, our father died when I was quite young and I have since been out to fend for myself when I can.
Amidst the struggles, I found solace in football. My love for soccer since I was around eight is incomparable. I featured in the under 10 and later under 14 teams at the then famous Real Kisumu FC. I later joined Olympic FC under 18 squad as the junior team where we played at the district level championship severally.
Our team was hosted at the Kisumu Youth Olympic Centre, a group registered in December 2003 as a non-governmental organisation. It worked towards assisting needy children in education, welfare and sports.
It is here that I received a lot of mentorships and molded into a fine footballer. Years later, through my prowess in the game, I earned a sports scholarship for secondary education at the football giant; Kisumu Day High School, where I sat the Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education (KCSE) in 2019.
In May 2020 through the efforts of my elder brother I managed to join Ramogi Institute of Advanced Technology to pursue a course in Mechanical Engineering. Mid- way through the course, I was forced to abandon it due to lack of tuition fees.
At the height of the corona pandemic, towards the end of 2020 my brother lost his source of income, he was dismissed from his job. I decided to refocus my energies on my soccer talent.
After several unsuccessful trials for teams in the top tier league, I have since joined the division one team, Kisumu Hot Stars, playing the midfield position for nearly two years now.
The football world as it is in Kenya does not pay much but we soldier on, except for top tier league teams that put in a little effort, the other tiers are but surviving in meagre resources. I hope day and night that scouts from much bigger teams would identify my love for the game.
I have in the past been approached with top flight clubs, Vihiga United and the National Super League Kisumu All Stars, but at both times, we couldn’t reach an agreement. I have also missed out on another sports scholarship but hoping for the best amidst pushing harder every day to perfect my talent.
Professor Humphrey Oborah, an advocate of talent and the secretary general of World Talent Foundation is of the opinion that many students join institutions of higher education because their parents think they must belong there, and also for lack of alternatives.
“Why would you go for the system, waste money and time and later drop out? This is a crucial thing that we need to address in our education system,” said Prof Obarah, who is also the president of the African Federation Gifted and Talented.
He notes that there is more than meets the eye in situations where young people drop out of college, arguing that this could be due to poor career guidance.
“You’re dealing with incompetence. If we continue relying on guesswork, it means many youths will be headed the wrong direction. We’re going to have mountains of problems because students were misdiagnosed and put in the wrong courses,” he said.
He gave an example of the prisons, where inmates who were disillusioned by the learning system are now misapplying their skills by conning Kenyans, Prof Oborah called for the need to match one’s innate abilities with a suitable course before joining any technical institution.
“What is their innate potential? You cannot be asked in a hospital to choose your medication; you have to be diagnosed. In Kenya we act on symptoms which come in form of competence, passion and interests, which are only signs and symptoms of talents,” he says.
At an early age, the prof advises, one should be able to identify the abilities of a learner and channel resources to meet the needs of that particular field.
“Our higher education systems are about units and more units and as such, most learners will not fit into that system and will simply drop out,” he said.