Nothing quite says you are a first-year student at a university in Kenya like attending a communication skills class.
Some institutions describe it as the unit that teaches a student how to study and shows him or her the way around academic materials, not least how to make use of libraries and other resources.
But at the University of Nairobi (UoN), that unit has now been dropped. Students who will join from the next academic year will not take communication skills, a unit that has been taught for years.
Another common unit HIV/Aids has also been dropped by Kenya’s oldest university in what the institution says is a bid to change with the times.
Up to 10 units are on the chopping board, and they include Elements of Philosophy, Fundamentals of Development and their Applications, and Law in Society.
UoN’s corporate affairs director John Orindi told the Nation that there are “more important” issues that undergraduates can be taught.
Climate and technology
“We have issues of climate and technology, which the graduate needs to be updated with,” he said. “So, we are moving with the times to be relevant in whatever we teach, not things that are old and not relevant to the graduates. We want things that add value to the graduates,” he added.
Students who would want to acquire the skills in the dropped units, said Mr Orindi, can study them at their own pace and get certification from industry players. “We have what we call a skill centre here, where we equip our graduates. They just go there and get taught on how to acquire these skills, and we bring the industry. So, they always have those sessions all the time. They get certificates from the industry,” explained Mr Orindi.
Since UoN’s vice chancellor Kiama Gitahi announced the axing of the units last week, opinion has been divided on whether some of them had to be terminated.
Writer Wanja Mwaniki took the two units as an undergraduate student and she is particularly passionate about the HIV/Aids classes.
“I remember, after one of those HIV/Aids classes, one of our classmates telling us that she had never heard about some of the topics we had discussed,” said Ms Mwaniki.
“We had a female medic from Kenyatta National Hospital who was very thorough in everything she taught. Some of us got to see female condoms for the first time during her classes. She even had dummies for both the male and female reproductive organs. The unit was very important,” she added. But others like Prof Martin Thuo, a Kenyan-born lecturer now based in the US, believe some of the units are a waste of time. Lawyer Mugambi Imaana believes units like HIV/Aids are outdated.