JITE v39n2 - Gender in School-to-School Transitions: How Students Choose Career Programs in Technical Colleges in Kenya

Volume 39, Number 2
Winter 2002

Gender in School-to-School Transitions: How Students Choose Career Programs in Technical Colleges in Kenya

Isaac Mattemu Kithyo
Moi University, Kenya

Stephen Petrina
University of British Columbia

When the first author joined the Kenya Polytechnic in 1972 to train as a Motor Vehicle Technician, there were no women in his class. In fact, there were no women in any of the engineering classes in the institution. He did not realize then that it was government policy that excluded them. He came to this realization in January 1996 when he came across a government publication that was produced in 1968 and circulated to all secondary schools and training institutions. This booklet with the title, Helping You Choose a Career, was signed by the Minister of Education Hon. Ngala Mwendwa and listed all the training programs available in Kenya. It also listed all the requirements for joining each program. The "boys-only" programs numbered 112, while only two were specified as girls-only. Those two were the nursing and secretarial programs. When he joined the same institution again in 1976, to train as a technical teacher, again there were no women in his class. In the following years when he taught automotive mechanics in Machakos Technical High School in 1977 and 1978, and later when he trained technical teachers in the Kenya Technical Teachers College from 1982 to 1990, there were no females in his classes.

Today, although specific gender requirements have been removed, females continue to have low participation rates in science and technology based programs. This limits their choice of career preparation programs to the few that do not have science and technology requirements. Gender therefore is a central issue in any study involving access to technical training facilities in Kenya (Eshiwani, 1984, 1991, 1993a, 1993b; Ndunda, 1995; Stamp, 1989; World Bank, 1989).

According to the World Factbook (Central Intelligence Agency, 2001), Kenyan women form 50% of the population, but constitute only 20% of the employed labor force. Most women are engaged in the informal sector (i.e., handicraft and food market commodity labor, unpaid labor, under-the-table waged labor), where they are active in agricultural and domestic labor. Chlebowska (1990) also points out that on small farms, women do 30% of plowing, 50% of planting, 70% of weeding, 85% of food processing and storing, and 95% of domestic work. Chlebowska argues that in Kenya, almost all the food consumed by rural families is produced by women on small farms. Other women in informal sectors are small traders, selling handicrafts and agricultural produce. The few women in the formal sector (i.e., taxable waged labor) are secretaries, nurses, and teachers, and about 20% are unskilled casual workers. In contrast, in the formal labor sector, upper income fields such as communication and manufacturing are male-dominated (Godia, 1987; International Labour Organisation (ILO), 1981, 1991; Jobs and Skills Program for Africa, 1981; Johnson, 1997; Middleton, Sideman & Adams, 1993; Republic of Kenya, Ministry of Labour, 1990, 1992, 1997).

Several reasons have been advanced as to why women are under-represented in the formal labor force (Eshiwani, 1984, 1991, 1993a, 1993b). One of the main reasons has been that women believe that they are responsible for children, family, and health care, thus taking up the responsibility of tending the young and the needy. Women in Kenya often see competitive, professional fields as the domain of men. A problem is that the variety of formal jobs for women is limited and these jobs are under-valued to the point that those who occupy them remain economically disadvantaged. While women are accomplished in domestic, health, and secretarial fields, they generally are discouraged from nourishing strong career ambitions in these or other fields.

Description of the Study

This article is a report from a larger study that combined quantitative and qualitative methods (Kithyo, 1999). Quantitative analyses were done to determine whether there were significant differences between the enrollments and performance of females and males in two technical colleges in Kenya. Enrollment and performance data were extracted as related to gender, type of high school attended, and career program. Chi-square analyses were made to determine initial relations among categorical variables. Academic performance data in English, mathematics, and physics were analyzed through MANOVA statistical techniques. ANOVA techniques were used to analyze performance data across school types (i.e., boys-only, girls-only). It was found that there was a significant relationship between sex and the programs the sample of 550 students chose. Female students chose programs that were traditionally female dominated (food and beverage, and secretarial programs), while male students chose programs that were traditionally male dominated (building and engineering programs). Among a range of factors, such as admission grades and type of secondary school, gender appears to be the most reliable predictor of career choice. This quantitative finding was supported through qualitative analysis. Qualitatively, factors such as school facilities, guidance and labor market orientation are important, but gender is evidently the most persistent and pervasive factor in students' career choices. In this sample, gender norms underwrite facility, guidance, and labor market practices.

This article qualitatively addresses factors that influenced choices of career programs for students studying in two technical colleges in Kenya. Qualitative techniques are effective in analyses of career choice and similar data (Atkinson, 1990; Harding, 1987; Hargreaves, 1995). Fourteen female and seven male students who were enrolled in traditionally female programs, and nine male and nine female students enrolled in traditionally male programs were selected from a sample of two technical colleges (Tables 1-3). All participants were of Kenyan descent and background, and volunteered for the study. Interviews focused on the participants' individual experiences related to choices of career programs. Students involved in this study had already made their choice, so the focus was on actual, vocational choices rather than career aspirations.

Interviews with the thirty-nine students were conducted in group and individual formats between June 1997 and March 1998. It was assumed that initial group interviews would provide a level of comfort necessary for individual interviews. In all interviews, one male and one female facilitator/researcher were used. Participation was voluntary and all interviews were audio taped. All audio tapes were initially transcribed, and data were then sorted into common themes that emerged from this transcription. Initial questions were broad, used to prompt the students to talk about what they considered important (e.g., "Tell me how you chose the program that you enrolled in?") (Kithyo, 1999). Subsequent questions were more directed to elicit responses related to emergent themes (e.g., "Did you get career guidance in high school?"). Twelve initial themes emerged from the data and were recombined to form four broader, thematic categories. For example, nearly all students noted that their high schools' career guidance practices, academic and applied course offerings, and facilities played a role in their career choices. These themes were combined into a "school environment" category. Four broad categories related to factors that influenced program choices were used: school and home environments, social traditions and cultural norms, and labor market and workplace orientations. These themes in program choice reflected situational or sociological theories in vocational guidance and career development (Borow, 1984; Conroy, 1997; Herr & Cramer, 1996; Rubenson, 1992).

Table 1
College A Enrollment, March 1997
First Year
   M      F   
Second Year
   M      F   
Third Year
   M      F   
Sub Total
   M      F   
Applied Science 179 95 158 115 123 73 460 283 743
Business Studies 129 127 80 93 74 74 283 294 577
Building & Civil Eng. 156 10 207 11 119 8 482 29 511
Computer Studies -- -- 81 39 36 12 117 51 168
Electrical & Electronics 221 15 264 14 139 4 624 33 657
Graphic Arts 168 80 99 58 40 18 307 156 463
Institutional Mgt. 26 140 33 130 29 63 88 333 421
Info. & Liberal Sciences 46 34 59 33 54 36 159 103 262
Mechanical Eng. 162 2 246 2 201 5 609 9 618
Survey & Mapping 83 14 103 29 92 13 278 56 334
Total 1170 517 1330 524 907 306 3407 1347 4754

The settings included one craft training college and one diploma college (Tables 1-3). College A was selected because it is the most established diploma college in the country and has many traditionally female and traditionally male programs. College B was selected because it has a large variety of both traditionally female and traditionally male programs. The common indicator of female and male programs is a mathematics and physics requirement for program admission. Traditionally male programs were defined as those requiring mathematics and physics. These included engineering and building programs. Traditionally female programs were defined as those that do not require mathematics and physics. These included secretarial, clothing technology, food and beverage, and institutional management programs. The colleges used in this study are representative samples of craft and diploma colleges in Kenya. Craft colleges in Kenya offer common courses, use the same syllabi, and have the same externally set and externally marked examinations. For any given program, the requirements are the same, irrespective of the college. Through these methods and settings, we were guided by the following research questions:

  1. What factors influence students' choices of technology programs?
  2. Are there differences in enrollment patterns between males and females, and between students from mixed-sex and single-sex schools?

Career choice is a complex exercise, involving conscious and unconscious decisions that are constrained by culture and social traditions. Through interviews with the students, it became clear that choices the students made were moderated by what was happening in their schools and homes, cultural norms, and labor market orientations. Discussion is organized under those themes.

Table 2
College B Enrollment, March 1997
First Year
   M      F   
Second Year
   M      F   
Third Year
   M      F   
Sub Total
   M      F   
Electrical Craft 18 3 16 1 17 0 51 4 55
Electrical Diploma 0 0 8 1 10 3 18 4 22
Motor Mechanics 23 1 23 0 14 1 60 2 62
Mechanical Craft 21 0 17 0 12 2 50 2 52
Welding & Fabrication 16 0 0 0 0 0 16 0 16
Carpentry & Joinery 3 0 5 0 4 2 12 2 14
Masonry Craft 5 0 7 0 5 0 17 0 17
Clothing Craft 1 18 0 25 1 15 2 58 60
Clothing Diploma 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Food & Beverage Craft 5 30 5 15 1 21 11 66 77
Food & Beverage Diploma 2 12 0 0 0 0 2 12 14
Secretarial Craft 0 25 0 0 1 13 1 38 39
Secretarial Diploma 2 29 1 23 0 22 3 74 77
Marketing Craft 8 23 11 12 10 13 29 48 77
Marketing Diploma 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
K.A.T.C. Intermediate 13 11 0 0 0 0 13 11 24
K.A.T.C. Final 12 5 0 0 0 0 12 5 17
C.P.A. 1 2 3 0 0 0 0 2 3 5
Total 131 160 93 77 75 92 299 329 628

Note. K.A.T.C. = Kenya Accounts Technician Certificate; C.P.A. 1= Certified Public Accountants stage one.

Table 3
Gender and Enrollment Patterns
Type of Program Total
    Traditionally Female Traditionally Male  

College A
Female 80 31 111
Male 7 147 154
Total 87 178 265

College B
Female 96 9 105
Male 15 135 150
Total 111 144 255

Note. Traditionally male programs were defined as those requiring mathematics and physics. Traditionally female programs were defined as those that do not require mathematics and physics.

Research Findings

High School Environment: Facilities, Performance, and Career Guidance

Initial interviews focused on high school experiences. In describing these experiences, the students were able to connect their career program choices with a variety of other factors. In talking about school facilities, performance and guidance were the most common themes. School facilities appeared to be more of a factor for students who attended girls-only schools and mixed schools than for those who attended boys-only schools. In colonial days in most African countries (pre-1963 in Kenya), girls were not expected to take science-based programs (Eshiwani, 1983, 1984, 1985, 1993b). These norms were inherited in the succeeding, independent schools. As such, the girls-only schools were not equipped with facilities for teaching science subjects. After independence, the emphasis in education became the Africanization of jobs. No serious efforts were made to change this gender imbalance in either schools or in the work place. The present policy is that the community in which the school stands is expected to develop the school or even initiate more schools, regardless of the community's ability to support the schools (Kintzer, 1989; Mwira, 1990). The 8-4-4 (number of years in primary-junior high-secondary) system of education introduces special practical subjects (e.g., domestic science, drafting, shorthand) to be offered in secondary schools (Republic of Kenya, 1987; Republic of Kenya, Ministry of Technical Training and Technology, 1990). Administrators have a choice in which of these practical courses they offer. The secondary schools tend to offer these courses; hence, the girls-only schools do not offer technology-based courses like drawing and design, and/or introductory engineering programs in mechanical or building trades. Instead they offer domestic science, and secretarial subjects. Although these subjects are not listed as requirements for enrollment into any of the programs in the technical colleges, the students assume they are required for anyone who wants to succeed in certain career programs. This came out clearly in what most of the students, especially girls, had to say. For example, Anyonje's choice of careers was limited to what was available in the secondary school she attended. This is how she put it:

Anyonje: You see that right from the start in the school that I was, that is (name of school) Girls High School, the special subjects we were given were agriculture, home-science and French. I specialized in home science so you find that my career is based on home-science. Although previously I thought of secretarial or teaching, I preferred to do textiles and clothing because of the home-science I had done. But you know here people make choices because somebody has told you, you are going to do this so you do it. Sometimes you find that in schools, for instance where I was, we didn't have subjects like technical drawing or art and craft so you can not do any other thing, you have to specialize in somewhere you have had a base in.… Actually, right from primary school, I like arts and any other kind of drawing. For example, right now I know, I can even draw a house. But, because I went to a high school without these subjects, I had to choose clothing because I did not have options.

The historical differences in curriculum between girls' and boys' schools constrain student choices; by the time the students come to choose careers they have internalized gender norms. There are different careers for women and for men. This may be what was in Cheptoo's mind when she said:

Cheptoo: I think there are careers for men and others for ladies. You will find that in girls' schools they don't have courses like engineering. You will only find these courses in either boys' schools or mixed schools. So the problems come from high school because we do not have all the subjects offered the same way in both girls and boys schools. There is no way someone who has a base in a certain course can be the same as someone who has just started the course in college.

Students from girls-only schools have performed poorly in science subjects, thus they have been excluded from the science-based programs at post-secondary levels (Eshiwani, 1993a; Kithyo, 1999). Enrollment records from the colleges in this study show a serious under-representation of students from mixed schools (Kithyo, 1999). A majority of students from mixed schools are simply excluded from a college education. Many students interviewed indicated that they could not enter the college-level career programs they wanted because they did not have the required grades in the required subjects from secondary school.

The grades students obtained in high school played a major role in their choice of career programs. While lack of facilities at high school seemed to specifically affect girls, grades seemed to affect both girls and boys. For example, Hammed had to match his academic ability with his career choice. This is what he said:

Hammed: In school, I had seen that I was not good in mathematics and science subjects, but in languages I was doing well. I finished secondary school and got a C+, that was in 1994. I got a D- in mathematics and in physics I got a D+. Chemistry I got a C-.

Liaka was afraid of taking the food and beverage program because of the grades she got in biology. This was in spite of the fact that the program was a traditionally females' program. Here we see the restriction grades had on this female student's choice of programs. This is how Liaka put it:

Liaka: I chose clothing technology. My friend was doing food and beverage but I did not want to choose it because I didn't do well in biology. I decided to take clothing technology because in the future I want to become a designer and be self-employed.

K.M: If you had done well in Biology you would have taken food and beverage?

Liaka: Yes. But my friend told me that you must be good in biology to do the course, and that there is a test done so as to discontinue those who are not doing well. I thought I might fail and took clothing technology.

K.M: How did you do in physics?

Liaka: I had a D+.

Career guidance seems to be a major factor that affected nearly all of the students in this study. It is not surprising to see this as a current factor, because it has been reported in many of the studies done on schooling in Kenya and little has been done to remedy the situation. For example, Kilonzo (1981) concludes that career masters (i.e., guidance counselors) in Kenya do not have the time or facilities to provide any career or psychological guidance to the students. Kilonzo associated this problem with the fact that the career masters are teachers who provide counseling in addition to their full teaching loads. Up until recently, most of the secondary schools in Kenya did not have career masters. This fact kept coming up in conversations with the participants. In some cases the students were quite confused when they were called upon to choose careers, basically without any information whatsoever. One of the best examples of this is found in a conversation with Cheptoo:

Cheptoo: I like design, but then I did not know what type of design I would have been good in. I was confused as whether to take clothing design or architectural design or maybe landscaping. After school I simply sat down and thought about it. I was wondering what to do because there are many types of design. I did away with architectural design because I knew I couldn't do it.

K.M: Why?

Cheptoo: Because I know I'm not so accurate and I know I just can't. I know I'm creative but I knew I had no accuracy. It was easy to pick up clothing because it was easier than all the other types of design. At least I could make dresses. I decided to look for a college so I went to Evelynn's school of design. I was to be admitted but the fees were so high. We decided with my parents. They said I could choose anything I want. Actually I didn't know clothing technology would have anything to do with design so I had to come to this place to find out. In school we had not been told that there was something like College A. My parents did not also help me in looking for a college. Their work was just to read the list of things and money I needed in my course and provide it, up to where they could. I applied from some information I got on the newspaper and I got an acceptance letter two weeks later.

Even students who knew about the existence of the craft and diploma technical colleges did not know what they offered. They had no knowledge beyond what they might have heard people talk about. Their options were therefore limited by this lack of knowledge or guidance as to what was available to them. Had Musau been exposed to more options he may have chosen something else but was not aware of the type of options that existed in the technical colleges. This is evident in the conversation below.

K.M: Did you have career guidance in secondary school?

Musau: No we did not. Nobody guided me. It was my friends and I. I just chose on my own.

K.M: Did you consider other careers like secretarial or food and beverages?

Musau: I had no idea about them.

K.M: Did you know about other engineering courses besides mechanical?

Musau: I had no idea. I thought there was only one course, mechanical. I did not know about electrical or automotive engineering.

According to the students, career masters generally operate with the assumption that all students ought to end up in an academic track in a university. They concentrate on helping the students fill the university application forms. The reality however, is that less than 10% of the students graduating from high school end up in the universities (Godia, 1987). This is the same problem pointed out by Kilonzo (1981), and illustrated in the following conversation with Mwende:

K.M: What kind of guidance were you given in secondary school about choosing careers?

Mwende: There was no career guidance in our school. When you finish school you were to go and do whatever you want.

K.M: Did you see any career teachers or guidance counselors when you were in school?

Mwende: No, I didn't see any one of them.

K.M: Who gave you the university forms?

Mwende: The deputy headmistress gave us the forms for university entrance.

In Kenya, students choose subjects for their high school certification when they are in grade eight. The subjects they choose at this time, primarily based on academic performance and gender, determine what type of careers are open to them. Each career has prerequisite subjects and those who abandon those subjects in grade eight are effectively excluded from that career. It is unfortunate that students are not made aware of the restrictions due to these choices. This is the problem Atieno was referring to in the following conversation:

Atieno: In high school, we were doing ten subjects that included sciences and one option; one had to choose from French or economics, that is, a business subject. Then there were the general subjects like English and Kiswahili. Out of ten subjects, we did not specialize in anything until we got to form four [secondary school] when we were given University forms to fill. Here we had to choose our career courses. We did not even have an idea on what to choose. We just chose to be lawyers. We thought it would be easier to get to university to do law because it would not require one to have passed sciences. Then we finished school, some of us stayed at home, others worked, but it would have been good if we got career guidance. Generally I didn't have a choice. I just did whatever came first.

K.M: In your school was there a career master?

Atieno: There was no career master. We didn't even know. In fact when we were given those forms to choose university programs, people were stuck. Others were saying they want to be doctors and they are not even good in sciences, you just filled anything because we were not informed.

Halima narrated the dilemma she had when she was faced with the task of choosing a training program. Although she knew what she wanted to be, her school had not made her aware of where different types of training programs were offered. As such she had to waste a lot of time moving from college to college to find out. Although this might be easy to do for students who live in the major urban areas, it is extremely difficult for the students who live in the poorer villages of Kenya where there are no telephones or newspapers. This can be a very frustrating experience for these students such that some of them abandon their goals. Halima was lucky, because she lived in the city and had access to communication systems. It was quite obvious to Halima that the career booklets the school supplied to students did not help her very much. This is how she put it:

Halima: I knew the course [I wanted] but I didn't know where to get it, so first I tried Kenya School of Mass Communication, but I didn't make it to go there. Again I tried air traffic control and the plans got postponed. Later a friend came and told me to try College A and I got really inspired.

K.M: Why did you decide to take the course?

Halima: This was because in Kenya today you can do a course and end up doing nothing.

K.M: Did you get career guidance in high school?

Halima: We were given booklets to read.

K.M: So you didn't have anyone talk to you about careers?

Halima: No.

K.M: Where then did you get information about careers?

Halima: Most of the information on careers I got from home, from my relatives and especially my cousins and also from the booklets we were issued at school.

As the interviews with the students continued it became apparent that there were certain instances where the home environment interacted with school experiences, and which were instrumental to the kind of careers the student chose. These were identified and organized into themes as explained below.

Parental and Peer Pressures and Gender Norms

Some students were more or less pressured into certain careers by their parents. In many cases, there seemed to be quite a struggle between what the parents wanted and what the student wanted. Some parents did not consult the students when they chose the careers they thought were good for "our daughter" or "our son." Chemweno was one of those students for whom a career program was chosen by the parents. This is what she had to say:

Chemweno: When I did not make it to university, I stayed home for one year. Then my mother told me of College A where I could go and do secretarial.

K.M: Is your mum a secretary?

Chemweno: She had been one but she has stopped working. One day she came and told me, you are going to the polytechnic. I didn't know where it was so she brought me and she cleared everything for me.

K.M: So you didn't choose your courses?

Chemweno: No.

K.M: What was your dad's reaction?

Chemweno: He was mad I didn't make it to campus, also he wasn't happy with the job I got. When I told him I was going to do secretarial, he wasn't amused. He asked me if there was nothing better I could do, but he still encouraged me by telling me I could still do marketing after secretarial.

Parental pressure can be so intense that students capitulate and choose the programs desired by the parents. In fact, some of the parents of students in this study threatened to withdraw financial support from the students if the students did not choose what the parents desired.

The extent to which the parents could advise their children differed from home to home. Some of the students avoided discussing careers with their parents because they thought the parents, being without formal education, were uninformed about careers. The parents, on the other hand, felt that they were the ones who should tell the students what to choose. This is expected in families of low socioeconomic status and for parents with limited education (most of the parents in this study) (Bowles & Gintis, 1976). Some parents could not help their children because they did not understand the requirements of various careers. For example, Okello thought that his parents were not in a position to assist him in choosing a career because they were not formally educated. He believed that they did not know enough about careers so he consulted his uncle instead. In addition to schooling, the relationship between students and their parents, and the confidence the students place in their parent's ability to help them choose careers, are factors in the students' choice of technical programs.

During the interviews, it was also evident that there was a general cultural pressure exerted on the students. There were extensive pressures from other students and their culture to choose "gender appropriate" programs. Below is Mohamed's account of these pressures:

Mohamed: Yes, I was discouraged because the course I got was in clothing technology. People were telling me that I took a course for women.

K.M: So how did you overcome it?

Mohamed: I was telling them that I did not want a course which involved Mathematics. In our school, one had to choose from Agriculture, Commerce, and Home-Science, so I chose Home-Science. …

K.M: Do they tease you so much here in college?

MoHamed: Yes, in fact the girls really tease me, even some boys, we are three men and people really tease us.

K.M: What is the problem, if you are interested in the course and find that you can do it?

Mohamed: I don't know, but now I have confidence doing it because I know I can be self-employed, or become a teacher.

Both men and women in this study viewed men as the breadwinners of their future families. The expectations for the men to be the primary breadwinners and the financial heads in their families were apparent from the female and the male students' accounts. The female students seemed to expect husbands to be more learned and better paid than wives. When men are aware of this expectation, they feel pressured to choose higher-level careers, and to work excessively hard to succeed. On the other hand, the expectations placed on women imply that the girls will assume household and child care duties. The husbands will take care of the financial sphere and the wives will maintain the domestic sphere. In general, women and men agree that women ought to avoid careers that demand physical or mental strain. This was implied in the following conversation with Mwanahisha:

Mwanahisha: I would like to get married to a man who is more learned than I am. I can't get married to a secretary. I would be proud to say my husband is an accountant.

K.M: But I have seen girls getting married to men who never even finished primary school, what do you think?

Mwanahisha: I think that depends on your reasoning and your choice.

I think personal feelings really matter here, but personally I would take time to choose a good man, with a good post and well paid.

The men in this study were apparently aware of these expectations. They seemed to feel that, for their wives to respect them, they must make more money than their wives. Omino provided a good example of this feeling:

Omino: I would not want to marry someone who gets more money than I do or has a higher post than me, because I feel there would be no respect and more so equality.

K.M: Now that you are in clothing, would you marry a girl in engineering, supposing that you really want to marry her?

Omino: It depends, that is hard and I don't think any girl like that would agree to marry me.

Female students considered their expected gender roles in the family when they chose their careers. For example, Liaka said:

Liaka: When you come to working on the engines you are mentally disturbed because you have to tighten here, there and one ends up being mentally tired. If one is a lady who has kids she will be disturbed by the children and by the work she is doing so she will have double disturbance.

But Patricia, who was in engineering, did not think that engineering demanded more energy than the other courses. She thought that what the other girls in female-dominated careers were saying was a matter of attitude:

Patricia: But also in clothing technology and food and beverage one also gets tired. For example, when one is preparing a material for clothing technology one stands and moves around and you get tired. For me I think mechanical engineering is the same work as clothing technology only that one uses metal while the other uses fabrics. It is only a matter of attitude.

It seemed as though men were expected to match their career choices with the view their prospective spouses had of their ideal husbands. Mumbi did not think she could marry a man who was a secretary. This was confirmed in her answer to the following question:

K.M: Tell me something you ladies. Suppose your boyfriend was doing secretarial, would that be okay?

Mumbi: It would not be okay because secretarial courses are for ladies. He may come to act like a lady.

It was very difficult for girls to find role models in the engineering fields. In the world of work most of the technical positions have been held by men (ILO, 1981). Lack of role models may remain a big problem, particularly in technical education, unless something is done to change the technical teacher training programs.

For example, Table 4 provides data on the technical education department in Moi University over a five-year period. It should be noted that this is the only degree-offering institution that trains technical teachers for secondary schools in Kenya. It may be important to point out that the lecturers in the Technical Education Department in Moi University are all males. There is evidence that there is a long established tradition of which careers are for men and which are for women.

Cultural traditions and gender norms play a part in pressuring the students to choose gender appropriate programs. A conversation with Liaka on this subject went as follows:

K.M: Why didn't you go to something like engineering?

Liaka: I had the idea that engineering is for men.

K.M: Where did you get the idea that engineering is for men?

Liaka: Well, I had never heard a lady doing something like mechanical engineer and I didn't want to be the first one to do it as a lady. It has a lot of metallic things and heavy jobs where one requires a lot of energy. Also, ladies don't look well with oiled overalls and then going under cars and cutting a lot of metals. Also, ladies tend to think that mechanics need a lot of science skills so they fear the science and go for the cheaper courses which don't have a lot of science. … People always think that ladies are weak and they can't handle hard jobs like in the engineering and also parents refused and don't want it. I have a friend who now lives alone because her father always says he doesn't want her to do mechanical engineer and up to now they are not in good terms.

Table 4
Enrollment in the Technology Department, Moi University, 1992-1996
  Year of enrollment
  1992 1993 1994 1995 1996
  M F M F M F M F M F
Building & Civil Eng. 13 0 11 1 10 0 14 0 21 1
Electrical Eng. 16 0 9 0 19 0 16 1 21 1
Mechanical Eng. 8 0 11 0 0 0 0 0 4 0
Power Mechanics 15 2 10 1 17 0 10 0 7 0
Total 52 2 41 2 46 0 40 1 53 2

Labor Market Orientations

In some cases the students had abandoned their interests in order to choose programs they saw as having good future economic prospects. The growth rate in the informal sector in Kenya was steady at 14% in both 1990 and 1991 while that of formal employment was down to 2.3% in 1991 from 3.0% in 1990 (Republic of Kenya, Ministry of Labour, 1990, 1992, 1997). Students who were training with self-employment in mind therefore were more realistic than those who trained with the hopes of formal employment.

Self-employment seemed to guide students like Chebett, as documented in this conversation:

K.M: What do you plan to do when you finish?

Chebett: I want to start my own job after I finish my course. I don't want to be employed.

K.M: Do you think the training you got will help you start your job?

Chebett: Yes, because I am doing it at a managerial level.

It was not always lack of employment opportunities that made students consider self-employment. For example, Mutune saw self-employment as giving him an opportunity to stabilize his family without asking his wife to transfer her place of work or change jobs every time he was transferred by his employer. When asked if his choice of career could affect his family roles and relations, he said:

Mutune: It can affect because if, for example, I work in an industry the money would be less. I would like to be a lecturer or self-employed. If I have a wife she will transfer if I transfer. Sometimes it really affects the family so I would prefer being self-employed.

Njenga believed that engineering jobs are hard, so very few people manage to do them. He also believed that because of this fact, there are few people available to take up the jobs in those fields. He wanted to be one of the few in this position. "In engineering, you have better chances of getting a job because very few people can manage the training involved." Availability of jobs either in the form of self or wage employment therefore played a major role in the students' choice of career programs, because most students felt that some careers had more opportunities than others.

There was disagreement between the students as to whether employers had gender preference when they hired employees. Some students believed that employers in industry prefer men to women when they hire employees. Mohamed was one of those students:

K.M: So you think employers prefer a certain job for certain people?

Mohamed: Yes, for us men it doesn't matter a lot because men can do jobs for ladies, but ladies cannot do all jobs men do. Most of the jobs in industries are given to men, especially when it comes to night shifts and overtime. Men can work for long. They are strong. They also consider men are there to stay, unlike women who are on and off work, especially for maternity leaves. I think they prefer men.

Kamwandi did not agree with Mohamed's argument. When asked whether employers preferred men in all the fields in industry she was quick to say "No! In things like design, women have taste and they are more creative in that field than men."

Many of the students interviewed for this study noted that they could not enroll in programs they wanted because the programs were full. This problem, rooted in history, is more pronounced for females than for males. In 1968, the government issued recruitment guidelines to the colleges. These guidelines, under the name "Helping You Choose a Career," listed 112 programs limited to males and only two programs limited to females. Although those guidelines are not currently prescribed, the boys greatly outnumber the girls in most of the training programs. For example, for the 1997-1998 enrollment in College A, male students comprised a majority (70%) of the training programs.

The same problem is experienced at the national universities and in civil government. For example, Kenya's Economic Survey of 1992 (Republic of Kenya, Ministry of Labour, 1992) showed that women represented 22% of the university enrollments, and these women were concentrated in a few non-science based programs. In 1988, 92.6% of the senior civil servants (salary scale G and above) were men, while most women were in job groups A to F. In 1993, only 8.2% of women civil servants were in job groups H to T, the highest grades of civil service. It is very difficult for teachers to convince girls to work towards the high paying managerial jobs while the students see that women do not have access to either educational programs or jobs.

Conclusions: Technical Career Choice in Policy and Theory

As indicated, while factors such as school facilities, guidance, and labor market orientation are important, in practice gender appears to be the most persistent and pervasive factor in students' career choice. This was described through qualitative data in this article, and was born out of quantitative data in a companion study (Kithyo, 1999). In this companion study, gender was found to be significantly related to career choice in the College A and B samples. Enrollment patterns in both colleges are similar (i.e., gender is significantly related to enrollment patterns). Gender is understood here to be at the same time an ideological residue of colonialism, patriarchal privilege, and the norm of representation for females and males (Lather, 1991; Mohanty, 1988; Ndunda, 1995; Salazar, 1991; Stamp, 1989). Granted, a relatively small sample of students in two post-secondary, technical institutions participated in this study, but we are prepared to argue, as other scholars have, that gender norms continue to mitigate against the full participation of females in Kenya society (Eshiwani, 1983, 1984, 1985, 1993b; Ndunda, 1995). This study can be seen as a case of a common process in Kenya. Gender works to keep males in their "normal" occupational place as well, but these places are often accompanied by status and wages that far exceed the females' occupations. The participants of this study suggest that many students are involved in a struggle to overcome barriers mediated by gender first, and social class second (Arnot, 1982; Giroux, 1981, 1983; Lather, 1991). As indicated in Table 3, 40 girls and 22 boys chose non-traditional programs, and are struggling to gain recognition in these career tracks.

However tempting it is to reduce all factors mentioned by the students to gender, it is clear that some are made more complex by this reduction to gender while others are somewhat independent (Gaskell, 1992). For example, high school facilities and performance in mathematics, science, and technology are clearly gendered issues. As indicated, boys-only schools tend to be well-equipped and oriented toward science and technology. Boys in mixed-sex schools are also encouraged to enroll, and perform well, in these subjects. Girls from girls-only schools that are well equipped for science and technology do not, for the most part, choose male-dominated careers (Kithyo, 1999). This is not to say that course selection, guidance, or school facilities are irrelevant. Other factors, such as parental pressure and stereotypical guidance, regardless of socioeconomic status, reinforce gender norms. But as some students have shown, it is possible to resist and negotiate the ideological and structural obstacles of class and gender. There were females and males who demonstrated that gender norms can be sufficiently contradicted to enable agency in career choice. For these students, factors such as labor market orientation were extremely influential. "Third World" feminists have been quick to point out that females actively comply with and resist gender norms, and choices are not rigidly structured by these norms (Mohanty, 1988; Ndunda, 1995; Stamp, 1989). In other words, the boys and girls in this study do not mindlessly comply with gender norms. Rather, there are psychological struggles, and strategies are developed to overcome these norms at opportune times.

Likewise, career development theories that go too far in focusing on biological and psychological factors as opposed to sociological factors are of little assistance here (e.g., Chartrand, 1991). Individual actions and value preferences of the students in this study indicate very little about how and why their choices were made. Career theories that suggest choices are moderated by a range of factors, but that fail to adequately account for cultural and economic differences between and among countries, are similarly unhelpful. Moreover, theories that raise the notion that institutions including the church, home, school, and workplace work together to shape career choice overlook the nuanced ways in which class or gender permeates institutional processes. Although situated cognition has potential to inform career theory, the bracketing of class, gender or race from personal, "cognitive" factors is overly segmented (Lent, Hacket, & Brown, 1996). We concur with Gray and Herr's (1998, p. 125) assessment that "the kind and quality of exploratory experiences, understanding of work opportunities, decision making, and related elements of career behavior are experienced differently by groups that differ on socioeconomic, gender, and racial terms." As indicated through the interviews, the girls' experiences in the primary and secondary schools were qualitatively different than the boys'. Courses taken, parental modes of advice, and peer pressures differed from males to females. In socioeconomic terms, students from rural village schools, with fewer resources than the urban schools, have different career choice experiences and possibilities (Kithyo, 1999). And while there may be similar themes that emerge in other studies of career choice, patterns of career choice in this Kenya sample will differ from samples in other countries in nuanced ways (e.g., Braundy, O'Riley, Petrina, Paxton and Dalley).

However tempting it is to dispense recommendations that extend from school facilities to labor market practices, we have opted to refrain. We nevertheless recommend that educators, policy makers, and researchers, in Kenya and other countries, recognize the persistence and pervasiveness of gender norms in career choice processes without dismissing the power of intervention to overcome these norms. The under-representation of females in technical careers and males in domestic and secretarial careers in Kenya is a complex, systemic problem that requires complex, structural solutions. We recommend that administrators refrain from blaming gender norms and instead focus on local, targeted interventions. For instance, one administrator in this study helplessly threw up his hands and exclaimed: "This [the low enrollments of females in the technology courses] can be attributed to the attitudes in the society."

This study provided a narrative about several factors that need attention if recruitment of students into craft and diploma colleges in Kenya is to be equitable for all students. All the students who leave high school ought to have equal chances of enrolling in technical career programs. Certainly, more research ought to be conducted in Kenya to determine the extent of gender inequities in the vocational education system. Structural inequities have existed for some time between the science and technology facilities of girls-only, boys-only, and mixed-sex schools (Eshiwani, 1984). Distributing career guidance counselors would not solve the structural problems. Nonetheless, potential counselors need to be aware of the issues associated with gender stereotyping and role-modeling of careers. It is difficult to convince students that opportunities exist if they see that in the school, jobs are segregated by sex. In Kenya, subjects like mathematics, science, and technology are predominantly taught by male teachers (Eshiwani, 1993a). In the educational system in general, the headmasters, the deputies, and most other people in formal positions of power are men. Most Zonal (i.e., regional) School Inspectors, District Education Officers, Provincial Education Officers, and most of the administrators in the Ministry of Education are men. In Moi University, as indicated, nearly all the aspiring technologists and teachers are male. Currently, women have little access to technical career preparation. As one female participant in the study concluded: "You will find that in girls' schools they don't have courses like engineering. You will only find these courses in either boys' schools or mixed schools….There is no way someone who has a base in a certain course can be the same as someone who has just started the course in college."


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Kithyo is Assistant Professor in the Faculty of Technology at Moi University in Eldoret, Kenya (ikithyo@yahoo.com). Petrina is Associate Professor in the Department of Curriculum Studies at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, British Columbia (stephen.petrina@ubc.ca). The authors wish to acknowledge the guidance of Dr. Gaalen Erickson, University of British Columbia.

Tracy Gilmore