Teaching physiotherapy in Kenya

A few weeks ago I visited colleagues in the Physiotherapy Department at Jomo Kenyatta University in Nairobi. I was invited as an external examiner and also to give advice on their developing MSc programme, which they are going to offer with both online and face-to-face components. This is just a short post of a few things that struck me about what it’s like trying to teach physiotherapy in Kenya.

Until recently, Kenya, like most other African countries, did not offer a 4 year Bachelor’s degree in Physiotherapy. Many countries on the continent still only offer physiotherapy as a 3 year diploma. Over the past decade or so my university has been one of the few institutions in Africa that has worked with our international colleagues to upgrade their degrees from Hon to MSc – and sometimes to PhD. Those colleagues have then gone back to their own countries and developed their local programmes to offer both the BSc (Physiotherapy) degree, as well as to upgrade local colleagues from their Diploma to BSc (Hon).

What this means is that the four members of staff in this department run two curricula in parallel – one for the new BSc students and another for the Diploma upgrade students. There obviously isn’t enough time in the week for them to do this, which is why the Diploma upgrade programme runs on Friday evenings and weekends. Think about that. They’re so committed to improving the profession in their country that they work seven days a week. I wonder how that notion would be taken up by academic physiotherapists in South Africa.

Now, also consider the fact that they’re working on developing a new MSc programme. It’s not enough that they’re already working with two separate cohorts of students (BSc and Diploma-upgrade); they also want a group of postgraduate students…just to keep themselves busy in those few moments of the day when they’re not already teaching. And this is why they need to offer the course partly online; not be trendy or because “flipped classrooms” are in but because there simply isn’t enough space in the normal day for them to pack in more classes.

On one of the days I was there I spent an hour or so with their 3rd year class because the lecturers were still busy with a practical test that had gone on for more than 4 hours. The reason that it had gone on for so long is that there were only 2 lecturers available to do the test. They finished at 18:30. The attitude of the teachers in the department is that the work has to get done and that they’re the only ones to do it, so there’s no point in complaining because complaining just takes up more time. There simply is no other option. And this is not unusual in the African context. There is one other university in the country that offers physiotherapy, and their situation is no different to JKUAT. And, from what I understand, these two departments are better off than many others on the continent.

What really struck me when I left Kenya was the fact that, no matter what challenges we might face in my own department, we cannot really understand the difficulties that our colleagues across Africa are dealing with in their physiotherapy programmes. While we complain about the fact that our air conditioning unit is broken, they don’t have lights in some parts of the building. It really reminded me, in a very physical way, that teaching is not about the equipment or access to resources. Yes, those things are important but what matters most of all is the commitment of the teachers to the students, and their passion for the profession.

All in all, I had a wonderful time in Nairobi. Everyone was incredibly friendly and welcoming and made we feel so very welcome. But most of all I was impressed at the level of professionalism and motivation shown by my colleagues in the Physiotherapy Department at JKUAT. I look forward to going back next year.

One Reply to “Teaching physiotherapy in Kenya”

  1. Thanks for this post Michael. Reminded me to keep my focus on the students and my commitment to them.

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