Redesign education curricula to make them holistic
The statement by the Health Cabinet Secretary Mutahi Kagwe that only 10 of 300 nursing school graduates, who were lined up for jobs in the UK, passed the standard English test required for employment in the UK, should rattle our education system.
English is the medium of instruction in our school system. By the time a student completes training in nursing they would have been receiving instructions in this language for at least 15 years at the very minimum. The test should be a walkover. But it is not.
Some have argued that mastery of English language should not be considered a measure of one’s ability to practice nursing.
But nursing is part of the chain of service providers in the practice of medicine.
Nurses give instructions to the doctors, they speak with the patients seeking to understand what ails their patients, they read instructions on the medicines they dispense and almost all these stages are carried out in the English language.
Those who practice their skills locally do not only need to master the English language but need mastery in other languages as well.
They will need to operate well in Kiswahili and certainly in at least one other language to enable them to engage in a fruitful manner with people from the local communities.
To this extent then, their mastery of the nursing skills, and passing in it, is not sufficient qualification.
If a nurse misunderstood a patient due to language barrier, then the mistakes that may result could lead to serious consequences for the patient.
Kagwe only spoke of the failure in language skills, but it would have been interesting to know how the qualified nurses performed in other tests.
Did they, for example, pass all the other tests that they were subjected to, or was the English part the first on the series?
In a study done a while back by the East African Business Community under the aegis of the Inter-University Council of East Africa, the question of the graduates coming out of the institutions in the region came up for evaluation.
Most of the graduates were found to be wanting in one area or the other. It was an indictment of our institutions of training.
However, the bigger picture is the overall perception that most students, and indeed leaders, have of certain subjects.
Some universities have proposed to do away with some subjects, among them philosophy, languages and literature.
They argue the courses are not critical in seeking employment and are, therefore, not marketable. But this is where our problem lies.
Graduates who are going to operate in the world need more than the narrow skills of their area of interest.
That poor language skills have stopped our nurses in their tracks should wake us out of our slumber.
The case of the nurses is a good illustration. Our nurses may have all the other skills they require, but language is already a killer.
They are not able to enter the door of employment in the UK because they have been locked out by their poor linguistic skills.
One does not need to hesitate to say qualifications in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics without other attending fields such as social, language and communication, people skills among others leaves the graduates poorly prepared to serve in society.
Those tasked with the duty of designing our curriculum need to consider a liberal course content approach that exposes graduates to a broad range of knowledge that enables them to operate in society beyond their narrow confines of specialisation.
Doctors, engineers, preachers, journalists, plumbers and lawyers among others do need the soft skills of interacting in society and among those soft skills is language.
We need to restore and respect these skills in our educational curriculum.—The writer is dean, School of Communication, Daystar University