Match curriculum to industry needs using AI

Developing new skills for the emerging technologies is inevitable. FILE PHOTO | NMG

What you need to know:

  • With the right skills, the millions of young people we have without jobs will become productive by filling areas of labour deficit without leaving the country.

The Kenyan higher education system is under intense pressure to lessen unemployment by matching curriculum to industry needs. The problem, however, has been lack of proper means of collecting usable data that can be analysed and used to predict the right curriculum for future jobs and adequately match skills to demand.

For example, a student who enrolled to pursue computer science four years ago may already be the holder of obsolete and irrelevant qualifications today considering the fact that we are fast shifting into the fourth industrial revolution that demands new computer skills.

Harri Ketamo and Anu Passi-Rauste’s September 2019 World Bank report, Labour market analysis and curriculum gap assessment using big data in Kenya, creatively used artificial intelligence (AI) to develop a digital replica of the skills demand and supply in the form of a skills map.

The method has been used in several industries to create a virtual copy of physical assets and products. The physical world is then connected to the virtual copy through sensors that collect real time data and use it to imitate normal activities for analytical purposes.

In this case, they applied it to the labour market and skills analysis. It is the first time the concept was applied in education. From the results, it is evident that this application promises to enable policy makers to move towards a transparent predictive analytics and cognitive reasoning in any language.

The objective of the experiment was to understand the skills demand in Kenya based on online job portal data and the country’s ICT educational offering based on the curriculums at Nairobi and Moi universities.

The results of the experiment confirmed that the universities’ curriculum largely matches the labour market demand but was unable to predict future jobs due to lack of data. The report acknowledges the limitations of using the AI tool alone. In such case, use of the human efforts is required to validate and analyze the unstructured data.

However, the report noted that there was need to tweak the curriculum to offer better courses that could serve specific high demand areas. This is perhaps why in the past, and without the benefit of data, it had been noted by many people that there was a disconnect between the graduating students and what the employers wanted.

Universities were accused of churning out unemployable graduates. In the recent past, the debate has centered on how to develop a curriculum that is more responsive to industry.

The analysis indicates that there was no need to change core courses. However, the language used in the curriculum and courses need to change.

Revising the language could also enable students to understand what skills they are learning by taking specific courses. The change will make it easier for students to describe the skills learnt better in their future careers.

Some of the report’s key recommendations include: Assisting students in selection of the courses based on skills demand, leveraging online courses such as Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) to supplement the curriculum gap, developing a toolkit highlighting infographics and visualization templates for labour market and curriculum analysis, continuous improvement of the curriculum and courses, and developing capacity to analyse, interpret and apply results in various contexts.

About 61 percent of the Kenyan population is aged between 15-59 years and it is expected to peak to about 65 percent by 2035.

These population parameters indicate there is a demographic dividend in Kenya. With so many of them going through college, the country needs to take advantage of this dividend to create wealth.

Developing new skills for the emerging technologies is inevitable. The more we embed some of these technologies in our everyday life, the better we develop a competitive advantage for the country. With the right skills, the millions of young people we have without jobs will become productive by filling areas of labour deficit without leaving the country.

Studies have shown that with the right curriculum, students can be equipped with skills for employment and positive work ethic required to meet the demands of the fast-changing industry and global dynamics.

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Note: The results are not exact but very close to the actual.