Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Education Moment

Google hosted the latest skunkworks where the debate was how to design a better computer science curriculum. Present were a team from the Google EngEDU (Engineering Education) which works with campuses to mould student skills that will enable them to adapt to a work environment at Google, and through continuous learning within Google that feeds back into universities through training.

Present was a nice mix of professionals, programmers, coders, Google, who were ex-students of Nairobi, Kenyatta, JKUAT, Strathmore and other foreign universities.

So what ails the Kenyan computing curriculum?
- Universities are large factories, that focus on quantity (of students) not quality (of learning) to support their income streams
- Lecturers are lazy (don't want to teach new concepts or learn new developments), instead they spend more time outside, on more lucrative consultancies
- Students are programmed to (cram) pass exams, obtain degrees and gain employment. Few are inspired to learn outside, or become developers. They accept poor learning, without challenge, and will riot over food but not poor lectures
- Engineering/ computer science curriculums are static, have not changed in years. It is difficult to change the curriculum as it involves all departments of university, and even consultation with the Government (for public universities)
- There is little research and publishing at universities
- There was an unresolved debate of why JKUAT is a ‘better’ institution for technology programs than Nairobi University which has more resources and ‘better’ lecturers

What can be done?
- Teach children more computer/programming skills (in high school) before university
- Universities should be encouraged to compete more with each other
- Corporations should establish mentorship programs
- More programming languages should be taught, even at schools e.g. python, .net, ruby, java, not just C++ and Visual Basic.
- Engineering students remain highly employable in other sectors like accounts and audit

What else is happening?
- Google now has a director for education for Africa (A sign of better things to come)
- South Africa has signed up to link with TEAMS (submarine cable), and Governments now recognize that skills shortage is the next critical area to address after bandwidth
- Google will be working with Strathmore, Nairobi, JKUAT and with other universities on design of better computer science curriculum.


Safaricom University: the latest Safaricom Options magazine talks about a corporate learning & development initiative the company has with Moi University that began in October 2006. Safaricom helps design the electrical engineering curriculum at the University to produce competent engineers with skills that are useable by Safaricom, with the top performing telecommunication bachelor of engineering students, currently in first and second year, eligible to be offered attachment places at Safaricom. The collaboration is next targeting a master’s telecommunications program (to be based in Nairobi). More on Moi and JKUAT collaborations.

Universities need Change: A very timely post this week from Gukira on the difficulty of doing research from a technological standpoint at Nairobi University. For one who is used to the research recourses available at a US university, Kenyan universities are rather close-minded about IT access to research students’ e.g.

- Internet resources are lamentably bad
- Printing costs are exorbitant.
- Could not get into the library could not even apply to get into the library
- Faculty members teach ridiculously high loads
Read more

Multimedia University: The Government has gazetted the establishment of the Multimedia University College of Kenya, formerly Kenya College of Communications Technology (KCCT)

Multimedia Cows: Over the weekend, I heard about Michigan State University research program with Maasai pastoralists – where they used GPS to track the movement of cattle and their grazing patterns to help pastoralists find pasture for their cattle easier, and by having to walk shorter distances.

University Blog: Diary of a Kenyan Campus Girl is a great read about university life by a female student studying computer science at JKUAT.


PKW said...

Kenyan universities are still producing computer-illiterate graduates. Welcome to the 21st century.

fortySouth said...

"They .. will riot over food but not poor lectures" - funny & true.
On mentoring, perhaps more can be said about tech start-ups and how those with great ideas can move from concept to go-to market products, while building a successful organization.
A great read!

Anonymous said...

multimedia college ? im skeptical. what about JKUAT i'm not sure it seems to me that colleges concentrate on certifications MS certifications cisco certifications etc to the point that our universities are more like IT trades schools. which is not entirely the mission of universities

bankelele said...

PKW: the demand is there, but the curriiculum needs updating

FortySouth: I thinks it symbolises the country which accepts high prices and bad customer service etc. but will only riot for bad politicans

Anon: JKUAT are the real IT Uni (IMHO). all uni's need to inspire their student not re-program them to serve corporations

Anonymous said...

I feel that early introduction of young people to computers in primary and secondary school is the way forward. Here children have more time for creative interaction and exploration of the computer which is not fixated by career demands. Their minds are also more flexible and inquisitive which are key to developing future program designing aptitudes.

Maishinski said...

1. Computers should be introduced at Nusery school. There are "baby computers" nowadays. Kids learn how to use Keyboards and mouse/trackball.

2. By Standard 3 (10year olds) proper computers should be used. An online primary school library can be established and shared by all schools for students to learn and research.

3. Basic programming and office productivity can be taught from standard 5 onwards.

4. Standard 7 & 8 students must be made to submit at least 1 basic computer based assignment each term. Such an assignment must involve some basic research and meet some basic scholarly standards (citations / referencing).

5. By form 1 (Age 14), students should be capable writing basic programs. It will be easy to identify student interests based on thir performance in Std 8. Some moderate specialization can be introduced at this level such that students can learn MORE on the subjects they are interested in - coupled with high level understanding of other areas.

Each term the students must produce at least one research-based assignment. The workload should be Progressively demanding such that by form 4, students should be able to write a University level thesis.

Kenyan University lecturers should be told to stop complicating Computer Science. Simplicity is the Key to knowledge! Core subjects should be well thought out and should be tied to a degree specialization.

The system should be redesigned - such that it stops churning academic generalists who barely know anything in-depth and have to be trained before they can be productive.

Split your mammoth Bsc computer Science into MIS, Architecture, Ecommerce, Computing, Business IT, Networking etc so that you produce graduates who have sufficiently solid theoretical foundation to undertake RESEARCH and contribute to knowledge advancement.

Ridiculous specialization topics like Compiler architecture need to be made OPTIONAL. A networking student doesnt need to learn about Algorthms and Data Structures! A programmer doesnt need to have Advanced Networking knowledge. AI theory is a speciality option, not an everyday thing. etc etc

I like JKUAT approach because its practical - with relatively manageable workload. By offering professional cources (CISCO, ORACLE, MCSE, MCSD etc) they stay in touch with reality and provide graduates who are easy hires.

Maishinski said...

Extra curriculum activities need to be formalized in school - with scholarships and academic credits awarded to the best sportspeope, musicians, dancers, Thespians, Knitters, Designers, Chess players, party planners, debaters etc.

We need an all rounded nation. Currently the official pastime is drinking.

bankelele said...

Maishinski: it's amazing how tech savvy kids are these days - three year old who can operate DVD's, mobile phones, I get free ring tone tips from 10 year olds etc. we have to retain that interest through the rigorous school process which does not emphasize IT and hopefully they will be keen on IT or programming as a career when done
- Sorry; this is still a drinking nation - cheers;-]

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