This article was originally published on LinkedIn.

The maturity of our graduates stems from…?

A few weeks ago, while doing my campus visits to speak to students about the Global Management Challenge I tripped over a realisation – the maturity of our graduates is so much lower than the graduates I meet from other countries. Granted there are the odd few who through circumstance have grown up much earlier but the majority haven’t grown up with role models for transition into adulthood.

A very specific incident occurred: Our very energetic and loud meeting was cut short by a lecturer who felt the need to scold these university students as if they were still in high school. But the language used was as if he was speaking to primary school children. There was no respect for the fact that there were guests at this meeting – guests who are role models of society. It was an assumption by a high school teacher that the students at university are the same he may have taught at high school and the way he needed to speak to them (read: at them) was in that tone.

A beautiful gathering where personal growth (life and professional) is central to the agenda on a weekly basis was struck down. Personal growth requires communities to come together and put diverse skill sets together for learning outcomes. A full learning experience isn’t time bound and so needs a certain kind of space and energy for full absorption. This was an amazing space and energy for these students to grow in… I digress.

So where am I coming from that this bothers me? I went to a university in the UK where from the day I walked onto that campus I was treated as an independent adult. I was on first name basis with all my lecturers, tutors and professors – accolades meant nothing to them because they were all distinguished and recognized amongst their peers. It was always about transfer of knowledge and then expanding that knowledge in your own way. I heard so many stories of PhD topics designed over a few beers between supervisor and ‘student’. Now name a Kenyan university where this is likely to happen?

We know there are problems in our academic faculties. Inadequate numbers per student, inadequate facilities and resources, obsolete curricula… I could go on. What I didn’t expect was that university students are treated like high school kids and not allowed to grow up.

Employers are crying foul over half-baked graduates who lack practical and soft-skills. How will these graduates know better if after 4 years in high school, they spend another 4 years in another high school? We should be teaching them to broaden their minds, become problem solvers and deep researchers. We should be showing them how to become distinguished yet humble, and how to respect one another regardless of age, race and intellect. Instead we are belittling them into children for 24 or 25 years of their lives and then suddenly expecting them to be grown-ups and take responsibility for themselves and their employers. It’s not going to happen.

The last thing I want to be doing as an employer is raising a child into becoming an adult. How many employers can relate to an experience where on the first time of expressing your frustration towards a new (half-baked) graduate trainee, they sulk and run away, never to return? (The slightly mature ones will submit a notice of resignation). Where did they learn to do this? Who was supposed to teach them the professional attitude towards this situation? Or were they taught by the teacher and the lecturer that we expect you to go away sulking?

To tackle our tertiary education challenges in Kenya we may be looking at the curricula and course content, the methods of delivery and the disconnect between academia and industry. We have a whole other side to this problem: the attitude of faculty and their devotion to socio-economic development through their students.