If Ezekiel Machogu gets Parliamentary approval to take over as the new Education Cabinet Secretary, he will inherit a docket in the throes of a myriad challenges some of which are intractable and pesky.
His predecessor, Prof George Magoha, will certainly miss the perks and power that come with the huge appointment but he must inwardly feel relieved of the burden of the endless challenges in the ministry.
The Competency-Based Curriculum now in its sixth year of implementation is still the subject of a furious debate about its very philosophy, implementation, examination and transition processes and the readiness of teachers to take it forward.
Though the Teachers Service Commission has done a commendable job training thousands of teachers on the new curriculum, most of them are still stuck to the ways of the old system, 8-4-4, either out of indifference or failure to accept the change fully.
This insouciance has crept up among many parents who think the system is too expensive, burdensome and unfriendly to them and their children.
In a word, the government has not created the moral buy-in from the public, which remains largely unconvinced that the system is better and more efficacious than 8-4-4.
The fact that President William Ruto has pledged to form a task force to review the system has created the impression that there is a window to scrap it altogether in favour of the 8-4-4 system or at least upend the ongoing implementation process.
As Mr Machogu sets about dealing with infrastructure problems and systemic challenges interlocking both systems, he must first confront the poor public perception and skepticism that has bedevilled the system.
Another enduring problem within the basic education sector is the perennial teacher shortages that have hurt the quality of teaching and learning. TSC figures indicate that the shortages are in the range of above 100,000, in addition to the 10,000 who exit the service each year either through natural attrition or resignations.
Coupled with this is the 100 per cent transition campaign from primary to secondary school. While this drive has resulted in almost 90 per cent transition in some regions and almost 100 per cent in others, it has created congestion and straining of facilities in schools, taking away the joy in learning by turning some of the institutions into detention camps. While secondary schools have been scrambling to expand their facilities as they brace for next year’s double intake when the first CBC cohort will join secondary schools, the situation is a potential powder keg.
Higher education too is struggling with its own peculiar problems. While Technical and Vocational Education and Training (Tvet) colleges are increasingly getting popular with Form Four graduates, most are rudderless in terms of curriculum direction and almost all are poorly staffed
The colleges, which include 11 national polytechnics, 933 vocational and technical colleges and 1,247 vocational centres hold more than 430,598, students, according to the latest Economic Survey, a majority of whom are pursuing purely technical courses.
Some of the colleges are equipped with brand new equipment worth millions of shillings, some of which is lying idle simply because of minor problems such as inappropriate electricity connections or lack of qualified trainers to put them into good use. The colleges are grappling with a tutor shortage of about 5,000, lack an enthusiastic and energetic campus life and most lack secure accommodation for their students.
At the university level, most public ones are reeling from debt because of over-reliance on dwindling Government funds and are unable to pay salaries on time or meet their statutory obligations. The World Bank last year asked the Government to merge some of the institutions and scrap some of the duplicated courses to cut spending.
The country has about 102 public universities and campuses which last year posted a deficit of Sh6.2 billion and received about Sh70bn Government funds.
The National Treasury has cut funding for the institutions by nine per cent (about Sh9.4 billion), leaving the institutions clutching at straws.
With such a long litany of problems, Mr Machogu must take the plunge quickly and hit the ground running, for in the end, his legacy will be judged by how he turns the fortunes of Kenya’s education sector around.