Dr Peter Kwenjera holds a PhD in Law and is a Certified Public Accountant. He is a mentor too, and has worked at Strathmore University for more than 16 years.
What valuable lessons have you gathered from interacting with students for so long?
Firstly, each person is unique, by interacting with them, you get to see things from their point of view and learn from them. I have learnt to listen to the youth.
The older generation tends to dismiss young people as “instant-gratification-seeking millennials”, which creates distrust between them. In my line of career, I have learnt to handle them with care.
The youth, like any other generation, have their strengths and challenges. We cannot always apply our perspectives or classic solutions to their issues.
We must appreciate the technological context in which they have grown and which has enormously impacted their lives. It is through this understanding and a lot of commitment that I have been able to relate smoothly with students.
Is it practical to plug the ‘disconnect’ between young people and the older generation?
It is possible when there is trust and honest dialogue between them. Parents should, for instance, guide their children instead of imposing specific choices on them.
They have to tactfully get them to listen to them and to ‘own’ the advice given. Families have to spend more time together to help reduce this disconnect.
Do young people have a role to play in this quest?
They should appreciate the efforts their parents make to take and keep them in school. Making unreasonable financial demands, especially for those who come from humble backgrounds, just to be on an equal footing with their peers, only overburdens parents. The youth should learn to live within their means.
A report earlier this year showed that only 22 percent of law students who sat their bar exams in 2017 had passed. As a lawyer, how would you explain this worrying scenario?
Law students often complain that lectures begin late, sometimes in the third week of the semester. Sometimes lecturers spend a lot of time advancing their own legal ideologies at the expense of delivering the material of the course.
While students always take the blame for failure, law schools must also take delivery of undergraduate law courses seriously for the pass rate in the bar exams to improve.
Do you have a philosophy of life? How has this influenced your decisions?
Mine is anchored on Christianity and family. I respect human dignity and appreciate that all human beings are uniquely created by God for a noble purpose in life.
As such, I strive to help students and the people I interact with to discover this noble purpose in their lives. I respect the place of family as the fundamental unit of society, the basis of social order and as the main support network.
When mentoring students, I encourage them to foster healthy relationships with their families and selfishly guard these.
What would you say are the biggest challenges for university graduates today?
Confusion on what to do with their degrees after graduation is a serious problem. Many graduates are in jobs that have no connection whatsoever with the courses they studied.
Others are in professions they are not enthusiastic about but which they trained for anyway.
When families force their children to study certain courses for, say, purely prestige purposes, lack of motivation is manifested in low productivity when they finally start working.
Law is one such course where some top lawyers project flamboyance, giving the impression of a lot of money and satisfaction.
There is need for students to refocus and study what interests them rather than be driven by the mere need to possess certificates.
As a mentor, how do you prepare your students for life after school?
As a university, we integrate entrepreneurship courses in all our academic programmes to encourage our students to innovate and to start small enterprises alongside their studies.
As a mentor, I help them to strike a balance between business and studies to avoid disrupting their school work. Three students based at our university recently won a global award for developing a bike that will help to solve energy challenges in rural areas.
Is it true that most problems facing youths stem from their backgrounds?
The Swahili adage, “Mtoto umleavyo ndivyo akuavyo” (How you raise a child determines how he turns up) holds true. Inculcating good values in children by teaching and setting a good example is the primary role of parents and guardians.
From my long interaction with students, broken families and neglect by parents are the genesis of most problems facing our youth today. I recommend to caregivers David Isaacs’ book, Character Building: a Guide for Parents and Teachers to help them build good character among the youth while respecting their dignity and freedom.
How do you handle cases of neglect when brought to your attention?
Facing parents and telling them that they have failed their son or daughter is not easy. That said, parents have the moral authority and duty to set their children on the right path.
I meet the student, their parent and a representative of the university. This is done with utmost confidentiality to facilitate openness of all the parties through mediation.
It is important for parents to examine themselves and discover the root cause of the problems in their own family that could be contributing to the situation their son or daughter is in.
In extreme cases, we have recommended professional counseling for both the student and the parents.
Are there memories in your career that you specially cherish?
Supporting a struggling student through the course to finally graduate is a special achievement. Some students fail their exams for various reasons, including turbulence within the family, lack of school fees or due to health reasons. Such students require a lot of support to complete their studies.
It gives me great joy and pride when a student who nearly despaired graduates.
This article was first published in the Daily Nation.