EPICA’s Open Days
Following its ‘Kick-Off Meeting’ in Hunderfossen, Norway in January 2018, EPICA has successfully completed the first phase of cementing its strategic international partnerships. Three Open Day events were held this April at EPICA’s African partner universities. The intention was in part the dissemination of the initiative’s project details, but the primary objective was to engage in a dialogue with local stakeholders, on whose input the project ultimately is built.
The first Open Day was held at Makerere University, Uganda, on April 12th 2018. The meeting was attended by around 50 engaged stakeholders from the business community, the educational sector, the Ministry of ICT & National Guidance, as well as members from the teachers’ and students’ bodies.
Makerere University’s Prof. Fred Masagazi-Masaazi opened the event on behalf of the Vice Chancellor. “The goal of the EPICA project,” he said, “is to ensure that graduates can attain the knowledge and skills needed at the workplace.” This is a much publicised problem in which, according to Prof. Masagazi-Masaazi, “universities all over the world are under criticism for producing graduates with skills mismatches.”
The Deputy Principal of the College of Education and External Studies, Associate Professor Paul Birevu Muyinda, proceeded to outline the goals of the EPICA initiative. He remarked on the approach to the project’s inception, as well as EPICA’s medium- and long-term deliverables. These include workshops organised at EPICA’s partner universities as well as at the prestigious eLearning Africa conference.
The next milestone was the Open Day event coordinated by the Open University of Tanzania, on April 19th. Dr Edephonce Nfuka, Director of the Institute of Educational and Management Technologies and EPICA Project Coordinator, introduced the project to a full council chamber of stakeholders from the public, business and academic sectors. The event hit the news the following day with the Tanzania Broadcasting Corporation. The broadcast included
interviews with Deputy Vice Chancellor of Academics, Prof. Deus Ngaruko and Dr Edephonce Nfuka. They enunciated the benefits of an ePortfolio platform in which students and teachers can more visibly highlight and catalogue graduates’ skills and qualifications. As Dr. Nfuka put it, “This portfolio will show the truth, so that students can show their capabilities.”
The EPICA initiative held its third Open Day event, which was organised by Kenya’ Maseno University in Kisumu in Western Kenya on April 27th. The University’s eCampus team presented EPICA’s innovative strategy to 50 stakeholders. Those in attendance included company representatives from the Kenya Power & Lighting Company (KPLC), the Kisumu Water and Sewage Company (KIWASCO), the National Museums of Kenya, the National Industrial Training Authority (NITA), as well as the Kanaan International College and the Ramogi Institute of Advanced Technology (RIAT). The broad spectrum of stakeholders’ institutions highlights the relevance of the topics EPICA addresses.
Michael Opiyah, Head of the eCampus Team and local EPICA Project Coordinator, gave a number of detailed introductory presentations about EPICA and its strategy to the local stakeholders.
Dr. Jackline Onyango, from the Kenya Institute of Curriculum Development (KICO), followed and talked about the local distinctions in Kenya, as well as the national development goals of the Kenyan educational system. She believes that by 2021 KICO will have updated 20% of the current curriculum for primary and secondary schools, last updated in 1985. Highlighting a global discrepancy in digital literacy, Dr. Onyango pointed to programmes that could “re-tool” teachers to adapt online learning strategies. She also elaborated on KICO’s commitment to roll out a competency-based curriculum for higher education in 2019. UNESCO’s International Bureau of Education defines such a curriculum in the following way:
A curriculum that emphasizes the complex outcomes of a learning process (i.e. knowledge, skills and attitudes to be applied by learners) rather than mainly focusing on what learners are expected to learn about in terms of traditionally-defined subject content. (…) It implies that learning activities and environments are chosen so that learners can acquire and apply the knowledge, skills and attitudes to situations they encounter in everyday life.
Throughout all three Open Days the stakeholders were reminded that their participation is crucial in providing the feedback needed to continually re-specify which skills the market requires graduates to possess. To that effect, all the attendees were encouraged to participate in the deliberations, and asked to complete a questionnaire in which they could highlight their own concerns and needs. This information was later analysed and discussed in focus group sessions. The discussions provided a refreshing opportunity to raise concerns: lack of funding for the educational system; graduates who need more practical skills instead of theoretical knowledge; graduates with insufficient communication and marketing skills; while what the labour market needs are employees who can take the initiative and find innovative solutions through creative and interdisciplinary problem solving mechanisms.
The success of these primary events – as measured by the interest and attention they attracted through the attendance but also in the media – is an important first step toward the implementation of the desired ePortfolio system. It is clear that a solution to the well-known skills gap is urgently required; and not just on behalf of employers. University graduates will, on an individual level, be the main recipients of the benefits that EPICA is working towards. At this point we should all be encouraging an alignment of a university education and the requirements of the labour market. It is one of the few investments that truly has the proverbial power of the rising tide that lift all the boats.