Invest in teachers to achieve 100 per cent primary to secondary school transition


Teacher Virginia Wangui takes pupils through CBC based-assessment at City Primary School, Sept 27, 2019. [Jonah Onyango, Standard]

The government’s campaign to enroll all primary school leavers to secondary school is sagacious, farsighted and in line with a global drive to push up literacy rates and acquire a more educated workforce.

From a global perspective, the push to achieve 100 per cent transition rate from primary to secondary school is meant to give all children free access to 12 years of learning.

Yet even without the global perspective and the human rights notion, a child in school builds a good foundation for his or her future, for the family and the society. It is a self-evident truth that children are safer and away from trouble in school than when idling unsupervised at home.

Still, without skills for lifelong learning, children are susceptible to huge barriers in life blocking their earning potential, employment or business entrepreneurship. They are also more likely to suffer from poor health and would be most unlikely to take part in decisions that affect their lives, when they come of age.

Studies have shown that societies with higher rates of school completion have correspondingly higher rates of economic prosperity, lower crime, greater equality and even higher life expectancy.

Yet if schools must serve as incubators for future leaders and gateways to prosperity, they must be attractive, clean, fun to be in, well equipped and professionally run.

This is where the government’s 100 per cent transition drive falls short.

Provident as the policy is, it is being implemented in a chaotic, haphazard and feckless way that threatens to backfire with frightful consequences.

When it was introduced in 2018, secondary schools were already suffering from severe teacher shortages of about 60,000 across the whole basic education sector. The shortage is now estimated to be more than 100,000 in both primary and secondary schools.

This means that almost all the country’s more than 10,000 secondary schools are operating with staff shortages. Pushing more students to such schools not only means a heavier workload for the teachers but also a severe straining of existing resources. A school that was built to carry 800 students is being forced to accommodate 1,000 or 1,100 leading to severe overcrowding.

This means that students have to take long queues for meals, medical care at the school clinic and even for showers and toilets. In a nutshell, boarding schools have become more like remand homes or prisons than learning institutions.

Instead of becoming centres of learning and places to forge new and enduring friendships, the institutions are fast turning into vectors for gross indiscipline, drug abuse, homosexuality and bullying.

For those joining boarding schools for the first time, the institution is a joyless miserable place that only engenders frustration and loneliness.

“To be honest, the situation is pathetic but as teachers, we are doing our best. We get instructions that we must enroll a certain number of students and that’s what we do. We cannot give the learners the personal attention that they crave and it becomes a tall order to supervise what goes on in the crowded dormitories. Nevertheless, we have to make huge adjustments in the school schedules to ensure learning goes on uninterrupted,” says Gerald Muturi, a senior principal in a boarding school. 

Much as the policy is well-intentioned, it could end up destroying the learners especially in schools where indiscipline is like a culture, argues Muturi.

Kenya Secondary Schools Heads Association chairperson Kahi Indimuli recently pinpointed security and health of learners as the major concerns in many boarding schools.

Indimuli, the Machakos School principal, warned of a serious crisis after the January 2023 double intake when the pioneer competency-based curriculum class will move to secondary school.

Granted, the government has allocated funds for infrastructure expansion and many schools have reached out to alumni and well-wishers to help. But the progress is incremental and is coming at a huge cost to the emotional wellbeing of learners and the teachers.

Still, the usage of government infrastructure allocation can only be used with the approval of the counties education directors and this creates an unnecessary bottleneck and can easily be used as an avenue for kickbacks and shoddy workmanship. Approvals for projects under Sh5 million are done by county directors while those exceeding Sh10 million are done by the regional education coordinators.

The school principals and the teachers were obviously blindsided by the policy and are desperately struggling to cope with limited resources while learners are finding themselves groping for direction with little guidance and chaperoning.

At the very worst, if the chaos continue, more parents, especially the affluent, will enrol their learners in private schools leading to huge inequalities in the education sector.

While the policy is noble and expedient in the long term, it can end up producing a dazed bunch of learners sleepwalking through the system only to emerge at the end worse off than when they joined.

If the government does not decisively and urgently increase the teaching force (the 5,000 teachers employed yearly by the Teachers Service Commission is hardly adequate) and at the same time aggressively expand infrastructure, the transition policy will end being one of the biggest failures of our time.

[Kariuki Waihenya, is a consulting editor;]

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