EAST AFRICA: Ministers adopt harmonisation report

Education Ministers in the East African Community have adopted a report that could advance the planned harmonisation of education systems in the region. The master plan details how to harmonise educational systems and training curricula and touches on the fields of education, science and technology as well as culture, sports and youth affairs.

It is hoped the acceptance of the report and consensus on the need for a task force to aid implementation will revive the harmonisation process, which has suffered near failure due to entrenched national interests within the five East African Community (EAC) countries - Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda.

The countries plan to harmonise their higher education systems and training curricula as they integrate into a single trading bloc. But several unresolved issues have delayed the process.

As previously reported, the countries have widely varying higher education systems that must be standardised, but officials in the five nations have not seemed to agree on what should be retained or dropped in the process of achieving a single system.

For example, it takes five years for a student to finish an engineering degree in Kenya, against three years in Uganda. To pursue a medical degree at a Kenyan university takes five years, a year less than in Tanzania and Uganda. But none of the countries have seemed willing to adjust the duration of degree study, at least for now.

In mid-July, ministers responsible for education, science and technology, culture, sports and youth affairs in the EAC agreed on a Regional Report on the Harmonisation of the East African Education Systems and Training Curricula, or RRHESTC. The document is to be forwarded to the bloc's highest policy-making organ, the Council of Ministers, for adoption.

To drive negotiating the process and getting harmonisation operational, the officials agreed to set up a high-level task force, which will skim through the proposals and translate them into actionable implementation steps for educational harmonisation, which is expected to take centre-stage in 2012.

According to a report on the East African Community website, the Sectoral Council of Ministers of Education directed the EAC secretariat to convene meetings of the proposed task force within six months of adoption of the report.

The RRHESTC report recommends harmonisation of the following at all levels of education in the partner states: the education calendar; years of study; number of study hours; core subjects; and subject content.

In February, as reported, higher education ministers in the EAC differed over the plan to transform the Inter-University Council into a regional body with the core function of granting accreditation to universities in the five countries. Some argued that the proposed overall body would interfere with countries' sovereignty and would replicate existing national authorities.

The RRHESTC report recommendations also include harmonising assessment and examination systems, and accreditation standards and benchmarks for training institutions.

According to the report, once this is instituted examination bodies should be set up to facilitate the harmonisation process for assessments, examinations and certification - with strong emphasis on both interim and final examinations.

"Harmonised education curricula should bring equal education standards in the five partner states. The region has different systems of education, with some member states having better systems than others," said Beatrice Kiraso, the EAC deputy secretary general in charge of political federation, at a meeting in Arusha, Tanzania.

"The situation compelled some parents to take their children to study in other countries within the member states. If the first EAC hadn't collapsed, the parents wouldn't be sending their children across the borders," she said.