There is urgent need to integrate our regional education systems

What you need to know:

  • A number of factors makes integration of education a vital ingredient in fast-tracking a tighter cooperation of the East African bloc. First, member countries have qualitative attributes that are unique to their respective education systems.
  • Reconciling these varied systems would, therefore, be essentially benchmarking from each other as we will be adopting the best practices that each country has to offer. For instance, it takes mostly three years to complete some bachelor degrees in Uganda and Rwanda at relatively affordable rates. Kenya has a lot to learn here.
  • Education would make us understand and a­ppreciate the diverse cultures that make the beautiful tapestry that is the EAC. There is nothing more unifying than having a deep knowledge of the people you share the region with.

The integration of the East African Community (EAC) has recorded significant progress in the recent past. Important steps have been taken to ensure trade and business within the member countries are conducted without unnecessary cross-border encumbrances.

While the milestones are worth celebrating, those driving the integration agenda need to ensure the process is holistic, involving all key sectors of the economy. One of the sectors that seems to lag behind is education. Although education has been identified as one of the pillars that can accelerate harmony in the region, we are yet to witness an aggressive move to place it at the centre of the whole project.

We have fond memories of how education was a powerful instrument for regional unity during the East African Cooperation, the predecessor of the current EAC. Then Uganda’s Makerere University and University of Nairobi were the premier institutions of higher learning in the region. Indeed most Kenyans who spearheaded the consolidation of the fledgling institutions of government immediately after independence were trained at Makerere. Also in the 1970s and 80s many lecturers at the local universities were drawn from the neighbouring countries.

Following the collapse of the East African Cooperation, the gains that had been made in education cooperation largely disintegrated. Now we are embarking almost from scratch on the same journey that, although full of challenges, clearly has fundamental benefits for the citizens of the region. It is worth noting that citizens are steps ahead of governments in the integration of education. Students from Kenya have been going to various institutions across the regions looking for institutions that best satisfy their education needs.

Kenyan students have also been shopping for affordable university education in the region regardless of the physical barriers in the name of national boundaries. Besides, many Ugandan and Rwandan students study in Kenya. The students have thus set the pace that EAC member countries can follow. This underscores the overwhelming need to harmonise and integrate the education systems.

A number of factors makes integration of education a vital ingredient in fast-tracking a tighter cooperation of the East African bloc. First, member countries have qualitative attributes that are unique to their respective education systems.

Reconciling these varied systems would, therefore, be essentially benchmarking from each other as we will be adopting the best practices that each country has to offer. For instance, it takes mostly three years to complete some bachelor degrees in Uganda and Rwanda at relatively affordable rates. Kenya has a lot to learn here.

Education would make us understand and a­ppreciate the diverse cultures that make the beautiful tapestry that is the EAC. There is nothing more unifying than having a deep knowledge of the people you share the region with.

This fosters tolerance that is crucial to building and sustaining an ambitious project such as the integration enterprise. Harmonising the education would also help us tap the best brains in the region to design curricula that meet the needs of the region.

Industries have always accused institutions of higher learning of producing half-baked graduates who are far removed from the skills required at the work place.

Integrating our education systems afford us an opportunity to examine critically the shortcomings therein and hence address them as comprehensively as possible.

Moreover, competition to catch the eye of students would be more intense among institutions. This healthy competition would be instrumental in promoting quality education.

In such a fiercely competitive environment only institutions that offer quality education would survive. Universities would thus be compelled to be innovative in designing their programmes. This will build world class education institutions.

Dr Gicharu is the founder and chairman of Mount Kenya University

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