The Kabete National Polytechnic in Nairobi County.[Courtesy]

Last week, Kabete National Polytechnic held its second research conference.

I was a guest as an alumnus. It was nostalgic visiting an institution that has evolved in the last 100 years from a native industrial training depot (NITD) to a technical school, a technical institute and now a national polytechnic.

Now you know why the small town next to this school is called “N”. Did I hear the late founding President Jomo Kenyatta went through this school?   

The lathe machines that I used are still there while the school motto has not changed. It’s still “bidii na uaminivu” (hard work and integrity).  

The school has undergone much development with new buildings and workshops. But my old dormitory, Longonot, is still there. The canteen where we bought the tasty Aurora bread is still there. 

Later in life, I shifted away from technology after majoring in electrical technology. I went on to study physics at university and then economics. I have lived my intellectual life backwards. I should have studied physics and then technology. 

But I learnt a great lesson in the technical school: employers look for skills, not individuals. In Form Two, I got a job offer at Mumias Sugar Company, but I passed it over as I felt I was too young. I was also intellectually ambitious.   

My dream of joining a technical school was to design Kenya’s first jet fighter. I only designed a G-clamp and a stepped shaft. 

It turned into a nightmare. The curriculum was dull and militaristic – produce workers as soon as possible.

How did one study physical sciences in a technical school?  My next school, Alliance, was very different with a rich curriculum and a rich culture. Curiously, I had chosen it as my second choice in primary school. Career guidance!  

Enough on schooling. The Kabete National Polytechnic’s research conference’s theme was linking research, science, technology and innovation with development in Africa.

Having gone through a technical school and studied science and economics, the theme resonated with me.

The principal Okumu JW Odhiambo said: “The conference is a manifestation of the Polytechnic’s commitment to participate in technological innovation as well as in the discovery, transmission and enhancement of knowledge that will stimulate intellectual life in the economic, social-cultural, scientific and technological development. This will greatly inspire the transmission of skills required by the youth for self-employment, decent work and solutions to various societal challenges.”  

Without synergy among these variables, development is elusive. We must do scientific research to spawn new ideas or innovations, which are commercialised, creating new enterprises and economic growth and development.

Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) institutions produce the doers, who actualise the ideas from research labs. Our students are opting to go to TVETs instead of university. That is something to celebrate. 

Education Cabinet Secretary Prof George Magoha speaking at the conference called for research that solves real-life problems from food production to water harvesting and transport.  

Two observations caught my attention at the conference. One is that tertiary institutions do not cooperate as much as expected. Researchers, innovators, funders and technicians (the do people) should “ talk more.”

This increases the chances of success in their work. The synergy created will lead to workable solutions.

Though the conference was hosted by a polytechnic, universities and industry should have had a bigger presence. After all, they are meant to solve problems for the country if not for the entire planet.  

Two is that we lack an office at the highest level in the government to drive a science and technology policy. On this, we need to be American. We copied their constitution even calling our ministers secretaries. Do they like it?  

We also need an office focused on science and technology under the executive office of the president like in the US. 

The White House website says “Congress established the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) in 1976. The OSTP advises the president and others within the Executive Office of the President on the scientific, engineering, and technological aspects of the economy, national security, homeland security, health, foreign relations and the environment. 

Who says we do not need such an office in Kenya? We are yet to fully appreciate the role of science and technology in economic growth.

Have you noticed the US is trying to make it easier for highly educated Russians particularly in Stem to immigrate?

Establishing such an office should be one of the agendas of the next government.

Source: https://www.standardmedia.co.ke/opinion/article/2001445591/why-the-role-of-technical-institutions-in-innovation-cannot-be-gainsaid