Synergy between academic and professional training
Staff Writer  |  Nov 8, 2019  | 
Cytonn Foundation
Staff Writer  |  Nov 8, 2019  |  Cytonn Foundation

According to the United Nations world population report of 2018, Kenya’s population is projected at 45 million at 2019 with 75% of this being the youth. This is expected to double by mid-century. Who is being targeted by the ongoing reforms in the education sector? With these questions in mind, the reality is that academia, industry practitioners and the youth of this country have a major role to play in the implementation of the competence-based curriculum across the board. The current youth of Kenya are the lifeblood of the growth and development of this country championed in the country’s agenda as they will form a majority of the parents whose children will be the vast beneficiaries.

The ongoing reforms in the education system from academic and exam-oriented to competency-based, directly affect young people and future generations. This is critically important bearing in mind the fast-paced dynamics of the 21st-century workspace which require not only competent but also multi-skilled and adaptable people. The good news is that the competency-based curriculum as informed by Piaget’s theory of cognitive development; has packaged the relevant core skills dubbed the Four C’s. These are Communication and Collaboration, Critical thinking and Problem-solving, Citizenship, Creativity and imagination. As the learner goes through the system, three mindsets are taught; innovation, Self-efficacy and Digital literacy. With today’s youth continuously embracing technology, innovation, and entrepreneurship, this creates many opportunities and multi-pathways through which they can benefit. The traditionally ignored competencies, as well as disruptive emergent careers, can now be brought up front and explored not only for economic gains but also for fulfillment and self-actualization.

Whilst both academic qualifications and professional qualifications are recognized and controlled by the Kenya National Qualifications Authority (KNQA) and both are indicative of a certain level of individual actualization, the levels of recognition of these forms of qualification are not always on par.

Not all qualifications are equal, even though this is the primary vision and mission of the KNQA. Although there are various differences between the academic and profession, is this distinction in recognition correct, or is too much impetus being placed on academics alone? Are we able to harmonize the societal perception and industrial skill-set expectations?

What makes these qualifications different?

Academic qualification involves the study of a subject with an academic discipline and (hopefully) research focus. The overriding purpose of this qualification is a contribution to the learner's specialized knowledge of a subject and not necessarily the application thereof.

Professional qualification is to impart knowledge, understanding and practical experience to the learner to enable him/her to apply the knowledge in a practical manner, in a professional practice. This obviously leads to a completely different set of skills, each with different purposes and contexts for the world of work.

On one hand, a professional qualification is usually made up of in-service training and various short courses, which when combined make up a qualification. On the other hand, the academic route focuses on the theory rather than practical application and leads to a qualification. With either approach, this formal qualification comes with a title that can be utilized infinitely, yet more often than not these titles are not treated as equal in the recruitment space.

If regulated by a professional body like KNQA in the form of a professional designation, such titles need to be renewed through annual reregistration with the regulatory body and include continuous professional development (CPD) activities to prove the currency of the skill/s.

The difference between these forms of qualification is perhaps that a professional qualification, due to the nature of the training and the fact that it is built on practice analysis, offers a warrant of competence and expertise. It, therefore, certifies that having completed the course or training, the graduate has the essential knowledge and skills to perform the duties as dictated by the profession.

Comparatively, an academic qualification does not certify competence and is not based on a systematic or formal practice analysis; all it emphasizes is that the learner has successfully learned the theory behind the practice. For this reason, should human error lead to damages, no recourse will be permitted to an academic institution, but in certain cases, recourse to a regulatory body may be possible.

Cocktail approach to academic and professional qualifications

Ongoing Education reforms cut across the four departments (basic education to professional tertiary training) and address issues of access, equity, transition rates, relevance and efficiency in the management of the respective subsectors of education. These reforms are therefore expected to shift from supply-led training to demand-driven training, time-bound, knowledge-based training to flexible and competency-based training, examination led certification to competency-based certification and finally job seekers to empowered creators of employment. This implies the learning outcome is on what the trainees are expected to demonstrate competency in rather than on what they are expected to learn about or know.

This, therefore, means in order to prove competence in an occupationally directed professional qualification it must be proven that the learner has knowledge and understanding of the theory (foundational competence), that the learner has the ability to apply that knowledge and understanding practically (practical competence), and that the learner has the ability to apply that knowledge, understanding and practical skill in an ever-changing environment (reflexive competence).

Therefore a more collaborative approach of the two will result in a combined effort in terms of professional and academic qualifications, utilizing skills analyses and gap training through sector skill advisory committees to expedite the process. This will allow these qualifications to offer synergy to produce a skilled workforce with knowledge and experience; a better solution to combating the current skills-short industry.

 A cocktail approach produces a skilled workforce that has both an academic knowledge of the job at hand, innovative and entrepreneurial skills. This, therefore, calls for the intervention of the occupational standard through curriculum development, assessment and certification council (CDACC). A body mandated to establish curriculum development and review process, assessment and certification, coordination, development, endorsement and review of the occupational standards among other duties. It will ensure enhanced roles of the sector skills advisory committee (SSAC).  With this in place; in the year 2030, the pioneer graduates of the competency-based curriculum (CBC) will be let out into the world of work. Unlike in the past, going for higher education will be an option since they will have relevant skills, along the multiple pathways in the CBC, to work and create employment. An innovative and entrepreneurial training approach would spur the growth and development of the country as much as needed in the job market.