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Where are thousands of school leavers who didn’t apply for college?

The media has been reporting about hundreds of thousands of Form 4 leavers who have not applied for admission to post-secondary institutions. Apparently, these young people didn’t bother to apply for tertiary education. The media reported that a significant proportion of the 600,000 girls and boys who sat for KCSE in 2022 did not apply for university or college admission by the Kenya Universities and Colleges Central Placement Services. Why?

In a fairly lazy fashion the media went on to claim that the students either chose to study abroad or in technical and vocational education and training colleges (TVETs). Or, the media suggested, some didn’t apply to KUCCPS because they didn’t have the application fee or simply ignored the whole process because they were dissatisfied by KUCCPS, which admitted them to courses they didn’t fancy.

But the media didn’t bother to pursue the question to its logical end. What, really, happened to these students? How many young Kenyans actually go abroad for undergraduate studies every year? How many of such learners would have sat the KCSE? How many of the ‘missing’ thousands couldn’t raise the application fee? How realistic is the claim that most of these learners could not raise the fee, Sh1,500? How many applied to TVETs as reported by the media?

Why couldn’t the media ask questions about how the learners are prepared on their post-secondary school prospects for studies and employment? Shouldn’t the media have investigated how high school careers departments work? What advice do schools give young learners on further education and training? Where was the evidence that the secondary school leavers couldn’t afford to pay the application fee?

But, most important, why is the media not asking the government to explain its position on the 100% transition policy that the previous government had established? What was meant to happen to the learners who exited secondary school, just in case the country had 100% transition from primary to secondary school? Were they meant to just ‘disappear’ in the manner that the media is reporting the ‘missing’ thousands who don’t seem to care about post-secondary education? Shouldn’t the government be worried that after spending so much money to educate young Kenyans up to high school, the learners would just ‘chill’, and not be worried furthering their education?

Or, just supposing there were thousands of high school leavers who couldn’t afford to pay the KUCCPS application fee, why couldn’t they be given an opportunity to apply at a lower fee? Or, why couldn’t these young people be encouraged to apply for ‘free’? After all, they probably don’t have a source of income, and maybe their parents or guardians have no means of supporting them either.

The issue here is not about just reporting the ‘missing’ numbers. It is about establishing how an education system can churn out hundreds of thousands of school leavers who just don’t seem interested in studying anymore. What would be the pedagogical philosophy of such a system? Shouldn’t any stage of schooling excite learners enough for them to want to move to the next stage? Shouldn’t high schoolers wish to join college? Aren’t university graduates supposed to be curious about what postgraduate studies hold for them just in case they were interested in further studies?

The media should guide Kenyans on this subject. Here is a scenario where the country could easily be creating a ‘lost generation’. Some of these young people may have been prejudiced against tertiary education. Others may genuinely not be interested to study beyond high school either because of poor preparation or because they just can’t afford the school fees. In either case, the whole society has the responsibility to guide them into the right paths.

Education is not about finding jobs or making money immediately one leaves school. It is about preparing individuals to competently and confidently face the world. In a rapidly changing world, individuals need the knowledge and skills to adapt to new realities all the time. This is what education should endow the individual with. Higher education partially plays this important role. Which is why Kenya cannot afford to just wish away the thousands of young people who are seemingly disinterested in further studies.

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