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Opinion & Analysis

How over-regulation stifles innovation

Regulators should encourage innovation as a strategy to enhance the country’s competitiveness. FILE PHOTO | NMG
Regulators should encourage innovation as a strategy to enhance the country’s competitiveness. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

A few years back, some Kenyan universities dared to develop new engineering programmes ostensibly to respond to market demands.
Their creative approach was shortlived.

he Commission of University Education (sector regulator) and the Board of Engineers (engineers’ registration body) crushed these creative ideas and sent the universities back to teaching obsolete programmes.

The future of learning is rapidly changing. The World Economic Forum’s Human Capital Index Report of June 2016 notes that there are jobs today that did not exist 10 years ago.

It predicts that at least “65 per cent of children entering primary school today will ultimately end up working in completely new job types that aren’t on our radar yet.” Further, the report predicts that the “pace of change is only going to get faster,” owing to rapid advances in technology.

The question for policy makers lingers: How do we prepare children who are entering school today for future jobs that we have no clue about?

In order to acquire the skills and knowledge needed for these future jobs, children must have the capacity to learn. It is unclear as to what the concept of the capacity to learn means or how one can achieve it.

Perhaps the best perspective is found in a 1998 quote by Seymour Papert, where he said: “All skills will become obsolete except one, the skill of being able to make the right response to situations that are outside the scope of what you were taught in school. We need to produce people who know how to act when they are faced with situations for which they were not specifically prepared.”

Enhancing the capacity to learn is complex. A 2000 study by Wald and Castleberry suggested that it should be a collaborative process, considering that learning is a complex process that demands that learners have an understanding of “themselves, their motives, and their thoughts and beliefs, as well as the motives, thoughts, and beliefs of others.”

It demands that individual interests be merged into collective aspirations. It compels members to have a sense of behaviour that creates a relationship of “trust, belonging, and purposefulness” that is often referred to as “work ethic.”

An individual cannot acquire the capacity to learn in isolation; society prepares young ones to acquire knowledge.

This begins early in life so as to enable an individual to do sensible things while acquiring the necessary knowledge and skills with or without going through formal educational systems.

Similarly, regulators should not act in isolation. They don’t have the monopoly of knowledge to unilaterally make decisions that may hinder capacity to learn and limit creativity for future competitiveness especially when the future is uncertain.

Moreover, their role should at most be enabling rather than acting as gatekeepers. Not when some of the top universities in the world are gearing up to creating programs that hitherto have been odd bedfellows.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in their MIT News on Campus and Around the World announced a new major combining economics and computer science.

They say, “the two academic departments will offer a joint major.... Computer Science, Economics, and Data Science, because elements of the two fields have become, well, inseparable.”

Their decision is informed by the disruptive pattern of Amazon, Uber, eBay that have used technology to gain competitive advantage.

The skill set required to power these technology behemoths is multidisciplinary. Their ultimate goal is to predict customer behaviour and gain competitive advantage.

Earlier works by John von Neumann, on game theory, proved that mathematics could be used to predict human behaviour.

In the coming days therefore, technologies like artificial intelligence that is already being applied in many areas, will be widely used to predict human behaviour.

Regulators should therefore be mandated to encourage creativity and innovation as a strategy to enhance the country’s competitiveness.

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