Culture and ideology in conflict: the village polytechnic programme in Kenya
A divergence between ideals and practice has been a characteristic feature of polytechnic development. The polytechnics originated as a 'non-formal' educational initiative, aiming to provide training opportunities to primary school leavers relating directly to the practical skill requirements of local farmers and artisans. They were to be local institutions created through community initiative, based mainly on local resources and controlled by local representatives through management committees. However, the displacement of these goals has been a major and recurrent theme in reports on polytechnic development, with complaints about the neglect of agriculture in polytechnic training, the formalisation of curriculum and assessment, a limited orientation to local self-employment, and weaknesses in management and in particular the limited role played by many Management Committees. It has been claimed that the polytechnics have lest direction and in general suffer from poor status and low morale. Recent Aid Agency reports have reasserted the relevance of the programme's original ideals in providing polytechnics with a new sense of purpose and direction. In this paper, however, it is suggested that such policy prescriptions have had little impact and may even be counter-productive. It is suggested that a reassessment of aims is long overdue, given the cultural realities within which polytechnics must function. The paper considers the clash of ideology and culture in the areas of curriculum, assessment, self-employment and local control. It suggests that the 'neglect' of agriculture, the orientation to trade tests and paid employment, and the tendency to expect Government to 'take over' from the Management Committees, reflect cultural pressures which cannot be discounted in prescribing policies for the polytechnics. In particular it is argued (1) that instead of emphasising agriculture as central to the polytechnic curriculum, a much more selective approach is appropriate (2) that rather than stressing curricular flexibility in individual polytechnics, flexibility could be sought on a district basis (3) that rather than rejecting certification outright, a more relevant and effective form of assessment for the polytechnics is required (4) that in some respects an orientation to paid employment is more realistic for polytechnic leavers than an orientation to self-employment (5) that instead of expecting Management Committees to play a central role within the present policy framework, steps could be taken to develop a more active District focus. Taken together, these points suggest that fairly substantial reassessment of the role and objectives of the polytechnics is required.