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How to ensure our nurses will secure UK jobs

How to ensure our nurses will secure UK jobs

Recently, Health Cabinet Secretary Mutahi Kagwe decried the failure of health workers to pass English language tests as required to work in the United Kingdom. This happened despite there being 30,000 jobless Kenyan nurses and other health workers who recently got a chance to apply for work in the UK.

Of 300 who sat the Test of English as a Foreign Language Internet-Based Test (TOEFL iBT), only a paltry 10 passed. This test measures the ability to use and understand English at the university level. In addition, it evaluates listening, speaking, reading, and writing skills used to perform specific tasks.

When Kenya put the request through the Ministry of Labour this year, it was informed by the success of 894 Kenyan nurses working in the UK, earning Sh450,000 per month; the shortage of nurses in the UK, at 62,000; and the experience they would bring back home from the National Health Service.

One teacher of English agrees that grammatical elements are not as easy to find. She says there is grammaticality and there is acceptability. In Kenya, there is a lot of use of acceptable English at the expense of the grammatically correct structure. Our radio stations are not showing the way; neither are our leaders when they speak in public.

Unfortunately, the English language grade is the weakest link in the academic certificates of our professionals since, alongside Kiswahili, the subject is optional in school. The spoken language is worse. Other than our mother tongue, we have no regard for correct grammar. Our workers mix languages or use ‘sheng’, a slang or creole only they understand.

Since 2001, Kenya has embraced science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (Stem) as the stepping stone to industrialisation. Millions of dollars from Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) have been used to aid the establishment and running of the Centre for Mathematics, Science and Technology Education in Africa (Cemastea), a public institution in Karen, Nairobi, under the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology.

Cemastea is mandated to build the capacity of teachers of mathematics and science in effective classroom practices in Kenya and Sub-Saharan Africa. This is achieved through strengthening of mathematics and science education (SMASE) in-service education and training (Inset) programmes. Languages have not been factored in this arrangement.

We must take our nurses through professional development (PD), where English in general and TOEFL iBT in particular, is emphasised. We must take a leaf from Aga Khan University Hospital, whose nurses quite often relocate to the UK and the United States having satisfactorily passed TOEFL iBT.

Public-private partnerships between the Health ministry and top-notch private hospitals should be harnessed as incubation centers for nurses’ PD.

Finally, medical training colleges and institutes should wake up and smell the coffee. Their products must be acceptable beyond the borders.

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