Skill versus education based future

BY DAVID ONJILI

When Barrack Obama assumed office as the 44th President of the USA, he also became the 7th American President to be an alumnus of the Harvard University. This fete enabled the institution to bring its tally to eight of the nation’s chief executives, with Yale University producing five.

George W. Bush holds the title for being an alumnus of both. That is the value with which academic institutions worldwide have capitalized on to draw students. Yet, a new era of self-made billionaires has challenged this. So what does the future portend?

We must appreciate the fact that traditional careers like medicine, law and engineering will continue to require that students go through four to five years or even more of college to qualify to practice. Interestingly, other traditional courses like journalism and information technology may need a rethink. With a fast paced world transformed by technology, what was the norm yesterday is now being challenged.

An average Kenyan student who spends four years to pursue a degree at a university is likely to end up heavily indebted courtesy of the Higher Education Loans Board (HELB). As a loan, the Government, as the lender, expects the graduate to pay. Most entry jobs in Kenya for a degree holder pay a gross of Sh35, 000.

The possibility of a fresh graduate gaining formal employment remains a mirage in Kenya in an economy where Treasury has recently reported that 7,000 jobs were lost in 2019 as companies either downsized or completely shut due to the harsh economic times. In the same period, Treasury also reports of the 843,900 jobs were created, 724,600 were in being in the informal sector.

Education CS Professor George Magoha in 2019 announced the shutting down of a number of constituent colleges by universities. At the same time, the ministry blacklisted a number of courses which were termed either as a duplication of existing courses or irrelevant to the needs of the job market.
On Feb 4,2020 Tesla founder, Elon Musk tweeted that he was looking for programmers. The minimum requirement included super hardcore work ethic, talent for building things, common sense and trustworthiness. Nothing was mentioned about college degree holders having an upper hand. In fact, he assured those who will make it that they could be trained on specifics. This feeds into a growing trend amongst employers to seek specific skillsets from would be employees.

Photography, video editing, computer programming, Artificial Intelligence, creative writing are amongst a list of growing skills that are highly rewarding. Interestingly, you do not need a college diploma or degree to be qualified. With Internet, there are various open coursewares that you can acquire the rightful knowledge and kickstart your career.

So why is this new trend taking shape? Many universities and colleges offer obsolete qualifications as astronomical rise in tuition fees, accommodation and books costs make it very unattractive to an already struggling population

Coursera, Udemy, Udacity, Skillshare, edX and Google University are just a few of the existing platforms that offer online courses complete with certificates. Interestingly, even prestigious learning institutions like Harvard, Stanford and Berkeley are among universities that also offer free online certification and courses. While the courses by the universities may be free, the other platforms require a lesser amount for one to sit and get a certificate course.

Professors and experts have developed courses and share them on such platforms. Take Coursera for example, they have top courses from machine learning, IBM Data Science, Data Analysis, Social media marketing, interior design, building android apps and even foreign language courses. They have partnered with top world universities for these course contents and syllabus and the fees are very minimal while others even free. Why would a student spend two years in a university learning a foreign language at a higher course when they can get the same online?

Employers too are helping embrace this new trend. It is not news that a number are looking for more than academic papers when employing staff.
The elderly generation may have benefited in the job market as a result of the prestigious name of their institutions of learning. It still happens in traditional careers but employers are more and more seeking to employ people with the requisite skillset for specific tasks. Would you, for instance, employ a student with first class honors in journalism or a diploma holder who runs their own blog that has adequate traffic?

The last decade has been an internet era, that explains why many billionaires have made their cash from the internet: Facebook, Twitter, Alibaba and Amazon to mention a few. The future looks set to be conquered by space exploration and Artificial Intelligence, fast paced and trendy fields where yesterday’s respected knowledge is obsolete tomorrow. Students and institutions must adjust to meet these trends to remain relevant.

As a country, Kenyan employers must not be left behind to such global trends. It is not new to find degree holders skipping their masters to acquire such skills from online course providers.

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