The interview of the Month : Michael Opiyoh, MASENO University
Michael Z. Opiyoh, PhD in Computer Science Candidate, Msc. Computer Science, Bsc. Computer Science, is currently the Project Coordinator of EPICA Project at Maseno University. He is the Head of Technical Services at the eCampus of Maseno University in Kenya. This role entails coordinating, planning and supervising technical team to ensure that the eCampus students achieve effective learning outcomes. Apart from the full time role at the eCampus, Michael is also a Part-time Lecturer in the Department of Information Technology at Maseno University and Moi University where he teaches undergraduate common IT courses and Bsc. IT courses respectively.
We hear a lot about skills gaps between university graduates and the labour market. What would you say are the main contributing factors that lead to this disparity?
I would say that to a large extent, it is differences among the expectations of policy makers, educators and employers that contribute to the skills gap between university graduates and the labour market. Specifically, there are fourmain factors:
- Lack of access to information on the relevant job market requirements - This lack of reliable and specific data has made it difficult for employers and educators to address any new or emerging skills gaps.
- Outdated curricula and mismatched trainings by universities and other tertiary institutions - The majority of universities and tertiary education institutions offer mismatched trainings and have outdated curricula that are misaligned with current or future needs of employers.
- Lack of soft skills training from traditional learning institutions - Employers are demanding a wider subset of skills - including soft skills- and educational institutions are not teaching them. Universities and training programs often prioritise major-based education or technical training, leaving out training of soft skills that are generally required.
- There is little use of competency based pedagogy in the teaching and learning strategies employed by universities and tertiary institutions. Employers expect to hire graduates who have been trained on the 21st Century skills. However, most of the universities apply knowledge-based teaching methodologies that focus mainly on knowledge acquisition arguing that competency based strategies do not suit disciplines where it is difficult to prescribe specific competencies or where new skills and new knowledge need to be rapidly accommodated.
From your point of view, which academic fields, businesses, or industries suffer the most because of this, especially in Kenya?
In Kenya, basically all the academic fields or sectors of the economy have been affected by skills gaps, with skills mismatches with the extractive industries (comprising of oil, gas, and mining) taking a lead. There have been recent discoveries of commercially viable resources like oil and gold in the country. However, to realise the potential of these resources, more people with the right skills are needed. Unfortunately, the number of graduates or skilled workers in these disciplines is low, forcing the country to seek labour abroad.
What is an ePortfolio, and how is it different from a CV or a graduate certificate?
An ePortfolio (electronic portfolio) is a digital collection of work that documents and showcases knowledge, skills, and abilities, and their growth over time. An ePortfolio may include such things as research papers; essays, fiction, reflections, or journals; media files including photos, slideshows, videos, and audio; or research projects. A CV, in contrast, is merely a type of summary that is used to describe your skills, talent, and experiences in a compact version. In a CV, the focus is more on the outcomes that a student or a graduate has achieved rather than the passive knowledge acquired.
How, in your opinion, does having an ePortfolio benefit a student and graduate?
ePortfolios are increasingly being viewed as a tool to not only improve the learning experience of students but also to enhance the employability, career development, and professional identity of graduates. Employers are seeking the best and brightest students who provide a strong “cultural fit” with their organisations. Solid grades are certainly advantageous, but not necessarily a critical issue in the overall recruitment process. Firms are looking for evidence of well-developed generic and employability skills as they cast a keen eye on students or graduates as potential members of their team.
Who stands to benefit from receiving access to an ePortfolio, i.e. how will this be useful to employers?
Employers will benefit from accessing the ePortfolio, as it provides a body of evidence that the graduates can do all that they have indicated in their resumes. The ePortfolio will also help employers in the recruitment process when narrowing down the selection. Finally, it will help employers get a “feel of the person” by offering an in-depth understanding of the applicant. An effective ePortfolio that contains the right information about the graduates will also help employers save time and money when seeking skilled individuals to hire.
How has this idea been received by those who stand to benefit from it?
From the baseline survey that we carried out in April 2018, for which we interviewed stakeholders including policy makers, employers, employees, teachers, and students, we noticed that majority of the stakeholders in the region were not aware of the existence of ePortfolios. Therefore there is need to sensitize the stakeholders on the potential benefits of the tool.
Can you point to an instance where this idea has flourished before? What can we learn from those instances?
In recent years, we have seen growing interest in the ePortfolios, mostly in developed countries, as a tool used to support the student learning process across universities and tertiary institutions. From the observations, we have learned that all stakeholders need to be involved in the development and exploitation of the ePortfolio in Africa, as it will bridge the gap that currently exists between the skills acquired by graduates and needs of the labour market.
What do you think are the most crucial coming steps that need to be negotiated for a successful implementation of EPICA’s strategy, such as overcoming technological requirements, increasing the visibility of the initiative, improving funding, etc.?
For successful implementation of EPICA’s strategy, it will be important to increase visibility of the project in the region to enable and encourage other learning institutions, policy makers, employers, and students who are not part of the project to embrace the competency-based ePortfolio. This requires securing additional donor funding that is dedicated to marketing the product in Africa.
Lastly, it is necessary to come up with a business model that will not be prohibitive in terms of costs for African universities and other tertiary institutions to acquire the final product at the end of the project period.