When Education Presents an Identity Crisis by Virginia Ngindiru

The youth I met at Ngaremara, can be described in one word as audacious. It is not easy growing up in a predominantly pastoralist community, yet making a bold choice to quit herding for an education.

‘I walked out of my parents house and into a classroom in a leso,’ recounts Amol. ‘I wanted to go to school but it was not an option in my family. I therefore walked out and enrolled myself in the nearby school. For some time, I had to live with my classmates.’

When we met, Amol is a University graduate but jobless. Two years now in his village, with nothing to show for his tedious toil towards a formal education.

‘It is hard being in this village, educated yet jobless. Having defied my parents’ choice for me as a herder, I no longer have a voice in the community. The animals belong to those who remained herding and they have the greatest voice. Without a formal job, I do not belong to either the herders’ or elite world. This is the reality of many educated youths in this village.’

When they chose school, they were convinced of a better life, contributing to the betterment of their families from a different front – not through herding. Without jobs to show for their long absences from home while attending school and colleges, they are torn between two worlds, yet belong to none.

Erikson, in his theory of identity development, posits that identity development contributes to healthy personalities and a sense of competence. Consequently, this leads to an individual forming positive views about themselves, their appearance, making proper vocational and career choices and contributing positively to the social life of their communities.  Possession of formal education has complicated the latter process for the youth at Ngaremara.  They have come back to their families, schooled, trained and certified but with no jobs thus unsure of how to navigate.

These youths are commonly singled out by the community members, to showcase how unrewarding education can be. ‘Look at these young men, trained up to college but with no jobs. They should have been left to herd or gotten training in manual skills that would lead to gainful self-employment,’ laments a lady who spoke to us.

When I reflect about these young men, I am curious as to how education can be tailored to offer hands-on skills for self-employment. How can it be aligned to the needs of the communities, such that, upon return, one can meaningfully contribute to the daily life of his/her people? How can institutions of higher learning, nurture 21st century skills during training?

While it is regrettable that these youths are idle, it’s also unbelievable that they were in institutions of higher learning, but failed to form networks or friendships that would propel them higher in their professional ladder, up to the world of work. Which begs the question, is education in itself sufficient to change the lives of those furthest behind? If Ngaremara is anything to go by, education is not an end by itself. Rather, it should be complemented by development of other soft skills that enable these youths to thrive beyond training. Similarly, deliberate efforts to create networking platforms and mentorship programs will go a long way in giving these youths a headstart in their careers.

Writer- Virginia Ngindiru, is our Senior Manager. For feedback, send an email to info@ziziafrique.org

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