Let’s Be Honest about Design Education in Kenya

Well last week, Shop Nanjala had the pleasure of visiting the corridors of University of Nairobi, Architecture, Design and Development (ADD) building. The monstrous facade of concrete still startles one when you approach the building. It’s blank unartistic structure is an eerie, ironic twist to the fact that this is the building where the best Kenyan designers and architects get tutored to be inventors, visionaries and future creatives.

Once you enter the building,  it’s like deja vu, everything looks familiar, even after 10 years, the place seems unchanged. The only thing noticeable is the freshly painted door to the School of Design Chairs office and a few additional levels (floors) of space going upwards.

We were on a mission to scout for talent and had gotten a tip off that the 3rd year students had done a ‘pinup’ exhibition. This is normally studio work done by the students and is examined every end of a semester. It’s the time when design students spend sleepless days on end trying to finish project work and last minute assignments. Panic. Work. Fatigue. Panic. Work. Fatigue. Repeat. Is the order of the days for the students just before this major exhibition.

2016 Design students had a hall dedicated to them. Each has a set of panels where they display their work and a table for their portfolios. When we walked round, we could see a lot of lines of disipline. Photography this content. Typography. Instrumental Drawing. Ceramics. Leatherwork. Graphics and so on. What was lacking was made up with clutter. It was really difficult to tell the difference between an astute talented student, a ‘Google copy cat’ and an average one. The dim light, lack of singularity in the work made it more tedious to really appreciate the pinned up work. After walking around for half an hour, our main conclusion was: The one thing that lacked across all the work was a lack of passion.

What happened to Design with passion? What happened to ‘thinking outside the box?’ Which we feel is a prerequisite to distinguishing a student with exceptional talent.

Our honest deduction is linked to the education system. Its related to the fact that Art and Design in Kenya is no longer an examinable subject. It is not even offered in secondary school (high school). This makes it a subject that becomes the ‘alternative’. So, in case one missed the undergraduate course one really wanted to pursue, their fall back plan would be to sign up to the Design course. One gets the feeling that it has become the ‘step child’ of the university disciplines’. Unwanted but tolerated.

We really shouldn’t blame the kids for their lack of passion. We should blame our own systems. Lets challenge our government. Let’s put up Design policies that start with tapping talent right from childhood by nurturing young talent, right through teaching it in elementary school till college and through to adulthood. Let’s develope best practice standards that we can be proud of. It’s the only way we shall quit hiring expatriate Creative Directors. It’s the only way Design in this region will be given true merit by the world.

To borrow the words from a famous American presidential candidate, ‘Let’s make Design Great Again.’

*Image courtesy of Derrick Mwendwa (Dj Prodigy) – UoN, 3rd Year School of Design, Graphics 



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