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KNUT's been barking loud, but what for?

By Alexander Chagema | August 11th 2016

When the David Pierpont Gardner-led American commission on education presented its report in April 1983, it read: "We report to the American people that while we can take justifiable pride in what our schools and colleges have historically accomplished and contributed to the United States and the well-being of its people, the educational foundations of our society are presently being eroded by a rising tide of mediocrity that threatens our very future as a nation and a people. What was unimaginable a generation ago has begun to occur - others are matching and surpassing our educational attainments.

"If an unfriendly foreign power had attempted to impose on America the mediocre educational performance that exists today, we might well have viewed it as an act of war. As it stands, we have allowed this to happen to ourselves.

"We have even squandered the gains in student achievement made in the wake of the Sputnik challenge. Moreover, we have dismantled essential support systems which helped make those gains possible. We have, in effect, been committing an act of unthinking, unilateral educational disarmament."

Nothing sums up our current situation better than this observation. Our education system has been disintegrating even as we look. Contrary to Gardner's contention, 'Our purpose has been to help define the problems afflicting American education and to provide solutions, not search for scapegoats', stakeholders in Kenya have been keen on apportioning blame rather than addressing the myriad of problems threatening our education system.

Scapegoating is our second nature. We have heard Kenya National Union of Teachers (KNUT) Secretary General Wilson Sossion attack Education Cabinet secretaries whenever the status quo was disturbed by the ministers. It is not easy to understand what drives him, but here is someone who affects special entitlement to matters of education in this country.

He is presumptuous and makes demands of everybody, including the President of the Republic of Kenya. The rumpus he raised, haughtily demanding the President sacks Jacob Kaimenyi, is still fresh in the minds of Kenyans.

President Kenyatta, perhaps seeking to bring down the heat generated by a long teachers strike over a pay dispute than accede to Mr Sossion's demands, transferred the embattled Professor to the Ministry of Lands. That is how Fred Matiang'i ended up heading the docket. In Dr Matiang'i, we have someone who knows what is right and goes for it.

That has wrong-footed all who had turned our education system into a business venture secure in the knowledge nobody could ruffle their feathers. There is a wind of change for the better, and the forces of evil are determined to hold that wind back.

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Change is inevitable, but it is never welcomed by those who stand to benefit from the status quo. Last week, the Leader of Majority in Parliament Aden Duale echoed sentiments expressed by many, namely, Knut and Mr Sossion were overstepping their mandate.

Granted, while part of Knut's core functions is 'to promote matters leading to the improvement of education and the establishment of a common system of education', policy issues in the Ministry of Education are clearly not in its province. The trade union must champion only the rights and interests of teachers vis a vis their employer.

The abolition of the school-ranking system and holiday tuition raised a lot of brouhaha, and KNUT was in the vanguard. The excuse for paid holiday tuition was ostensibly to clear the syllabus but this raised fundamental issues.

First, were the school calendar planners at the Ministry of Education sleeping on the job? What factors influenced the determination of school terms? Had lethargy assailed teachers so much they engaged in side ventures waiting to make the extra buck during holidays?

What has attended the sealing of loopholes leading to exam cheating has made everything vivid. When the school fires broke out, the police did their work, arresting those whom they suspected of arson, but even here, Mr Sossion deigned to order them to release the suspects 'with immediate effect'. Rather than admit there is a wider problem in schools, Sossion is fixated on Dr Matiang'i.

The role of KNUT as an institution, or that of individual members in influential positions, from the counties all the way up to the national office, should be given a fine tooth comb. There is a lot happening in secondary schools that fuels corruption and Knut has never raised a finger against it.

This will be explored at a later date, but for now, let's agree a dog does not bark for nothing, and KNUT has been barking quite loudly of late. 

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