The police officers should be allowed to have their degrees
Prof. Maurice Amutabi, Ph.D; Central Washington University, USA.
The news that over 2,000 police officers were stopped from pursuing degrees at local universities and colleges through an order of Police Commissioner Matthew Iteere should not be disappointing to the affected officers, for there are many options that universities can exercise to accommodate their needs. Education is a basic human right and natural justice demands that no one should be denied from pursuing education so long as it does not negatively performance at their work place. I am sure the police officers have a regular shift, where they work either during the day or at night, and can spare 3 hours per day to commit to college studies. Many countries have policies in place that allow people to enhance their qualifications at the work place and employers are mandated to ensure that they create this opportunity for workers. It is surprising that the Teachers Service Commission and now the Kenya Police Force are retrogressive in this regard. They are taking us to the past when upward mobility was limited for lack of opportunity for workers to pursue further education. The police officers should approach their universities so that sandwich or blended programs are prepared for them, to facilitate their way to graduation. In Africa, South Africa has been the leader in this, through distance, cooperative, experiential, lifelong, adult, and more recently online learning. The University of South Africa (UNISA) at Pretoria is the largest university in Africa, with over 200,000 students (about 8,000 are Kenyans).
Many universities in the world today have sandwich or blended systems of education (face to face classroom instruction, distance and online learning, etc). The police officers need not struggle with their seniors, if the issue is about availability. It would be different if the issue was that they are not allowed to go to school, but if the issue is transfers to remote locations, then they need not worry because universities should make the necessary adjustments through module systems. The universities can allow the students to switch to different modes of instruction – distance or online or blended – where they can be sent lecture notes, taped or recorded lectures and instructions on assignments (such as term papers and book reviews). They can also get books delivered to them in their location through the post system or through other parcel delivery companies from the university libraries. If the books are hard to get, they can get photocopies through reading packs (selected photocopies of relevant reading material). They can then go to designated centers to sit for continuous assessment tests (CATs) as well as final exams at night or weekends. For example, if an officer is posted to Iten and he is registered at the University of Nairobi, the university can arrange to have the student take his CATs and final exams at Moi University in Eldoret and arrange to share the examination fees with the proctoring/invigilating center. If an officer is posted to Gilgil, and is registered at Moi University, the university can have him sit his or her exams at Egerton University or the nearest university or college campus. When I visited UNISA and the University of Pretoria in 2008, I was amazed to see that they are already doing this in ways similar to what is done in the United States. It is not hard, but demands the general will of policy makers and university managers.
I have seen this system work very effectively in many universities in the United States. For example Central Washington University has 13,000 students but only 8,000 are on campus, the rest are out there. The students you get on campus are regular students – 18-24 years. The rest, nontraditional students (mothers and fathers) and working class students are full time workers and take blended programs, mainly evening, distance and online classes. They attend classes at night and weekends and school holidays at satellite campuses and downtown premises in big cities. Others are serving in various military formations overseas and are allowed to take exams when their units are back home, but continue to be sent modules even when their units are actively deployed. Central Washington University has six satellite campuses with over 5,000 where students sit for exams, or listen to satellite lectures transmitted live, or recorded and played out at these centers. The reason given for lack of these programs at African universities is lack of enough computers and laptops and yet these are given at minimal cost by computer companies, when ordered by institutions. Universities arrange with computer companies for students to rent out laptops and computers, which they return after they graduate or allowed to keep at a small fee. The laptops are bought though installments or renting. It makes it easy for everyone to have access to computers. Universities also arrange to get the cheapest wireless connection. Kenya has a good wireless infrastructure through the networks of Safaricom, Zain and Orange and can therefore transition to blended systems quite easily. Kenyan universities should also have open door policy and flexible contracts, reciprocity and credit exchange, where they should be willing to accept that a B grade from the University of Nairobi is the same to a B grade from Masinde Muliro University of Science and Technology in Basic Calculus or History of Kenya. This makes it easy for students to attend the college nearest to them but get a certificate from the University of their Choice.
The universities should also be willing to share resources. For example, there is no need to have a class of 10 students studying Basic Calculus in Nakuru town by Egerton University and another class in the same town run by the University of Nairobi with 10 students in the same town. The two classes can be merged and the universities will share the proceeds, but pay one instructor and one room. For example, in Spokane (the second largest city in the state of Washington after Seattle) two universities, Washington State University and Eastern Washington University share the same downtown premises and I have been impressed to see the students attend the same classes but will receive degrees from one of the universities. Sometimes the students will attend the same class, are taught by the same professor but will pay different fees. This is due to trademarks or ‘brand’ names and universities are responsible for working on the popularity of their trademark or brands. Students seem to have no problem with this. Just like some students will prefer to get a degree from Maseno University rather than the University of Nairobi because the fee charged per module is low and manageable. Some might prefer to have a bachelors degree in education from Moi University than Kenyatta University because employers perceive that Moi University produces better teachers. The same might be said for engineering where employers might prefer graduates from Masinde Muliro University of Science and Technology than other universities; or law degrees, where the University of Nairobi is seen as a pioneer and with more qualified academic staff; or theology degree, where the Catholic University in Eastern Africa will be preferred because of its religious background; or a degree in Communication, where a degree from Daystar might be preferred due to its track record.
The police officers can be allowed to continue with their education through module systems and if these works out for them, it will open more doors of natural justice for thousands of others out there. They do not have to resign from their positions because all universities in Kenya have the potential and capacity to reach them wherever they are posted. For those pursuing science degrees, they can rent labs at institutions nearest to them. Many labs in the universities in the US are used for 24 hours and never close during weekends to meet such needs. I believe Kenyan institutions should do the same, for these adult students deserve a second chance.