Education sector crying out for fresh, future-looking leadership

OPINION |

Some teachers have stagnated in the same job groups for more than 20 years. [David Gichuru, Standard]

Basic education is at the crossroads – the subsector now needs strong, effective and visionary leadership that would guide education managers, policy developers, learners, parents, teachers and their employer towards common objectives and goals.

It is for this reason, as well as Kenya’s failure to meet Education For All (EFA) goals and the 2013/2018 National Education Sector Plan targets, that President Uhuru Kenyatta’s successor will be faced with a herculean task to steer basic education reforms, including the attainment of Education 2030 Agenda.

To bring matters into context, the new president will be obligated to appoint an Education Cabinet Secretary who has clear idea of how the future of Kenyan education should look - affordable, inclusive and equitable education.

The next president, arguably, will be expected to pick an Education minister of the late George Saitoti’s calibre and professional status - one who will steer the country’s education to desirable qualities and enviable standards.

It should be recalled that Prof Saitoti, with an accomplished scholarly background, served as Minister for Finance and Vice President during President Moi’s regime. Kibaki identified him as “Mr Fix It” in the turbulent Education sector. He displayed effective leadership. Free Primary Education was smoothly rolled out, and Kenya Education Sector Support Programme developed and effectively implemented, courtesy of Saitoti’s strategic leadership. Effective audit of school funds was undertaken, and implementation of the remaining four phases of teachers’ salaries was achieved under Saitoti’s watch. Indeed, he was a hands-on minister. The success of the sector lies purely in the leader.  

l am envisaging a competent minister who will assemble a formidable team of technocrats to develop policies that will resuscitate stalled educational programmes and projects like the Kenya Education Sector Support Programme, which came up with a holistic strategic plan for the development of school infrastructure. A team of experts that will revive Kenya’s partnership with the International Development Association to improve learning outcomes for more than 16 million learners in public primary and secondary schools.

It is worth recalling that Sessional Paper No 1 of 2005, which Saitoti helped to develop, and articulated the way forward on the provision of education and training to all Kenyans. The long-term objective of the government was to provide every Kenyan child with basic quality education and training, including two years of pre-primary, eight years of primary and four years of secondary or technical education.

This is the kind of sessional paper Kenyans rightly deserve to guide education programmes. Saitoti distinguished himself as a dependable resource, as seen from his successes in developing, implementing and regularly reviewing education policies. He had supreme knowledge of leadership in education, and had no space and time for business cartels and their illicit deals at the ministry headquarters in Jogoo House.

His performance reminds us of the outstanding administration of Taita Towett when he served as the Minister for Education under the Mzee Jomo Kenyatta. Dr Towett, an illustrious philosopher and an astute educationalist, recorded tremendous success when he effectively implemented the Kenya School Equipment Scheme, and fully rolled out the UNESCO Agenda.

Towett successfully implemented recommendations of the National Committee on Educational Objectives and Policies of 1976 - commonly referred to as Gachathi Commission. It was set up to evaluate Kenya’s education system, define new set of education goals, formulate programmes to stem rural-urban migration, propose plans to promote employment creation of jobs and to suggest how to cut education budget from 15 per cent to 7 per cent.

Towett, who is worth emulating, was perhaps the most efficient Education minister Kenya has had since 1963. He propelled Kenyan education to top international rankings, the reason for his election as the first African to be the President of UNESCO (1976-1978).

The next president should pick an Education CS who matches Towett’s qualities and stature. He was a sharp-witted organiser, manager and technocrat. The new Education system is far below 7-4-2-3 or 8-4-4 and the performance of teachers in public schools is fast dimming due to bad policies, lack of strategic leadership and tactical planning, and there are no regular review of objectives and goals of the strategic plans. Hence, the next CS should be a hands-on leader able to fix these challenges.

It is regrettable that today, not every minister has the ability to add value to their docket.

The Teachers Service Commission (TSC) has introduced policies like Career Progression Guidelines, Teacher Professional Development and Delocalisation of Teachers Programme. It has been signing empty Collective Bargaining Agreement with unions at a time the hardship allowance has been withdrawn from some regions. Some teachers have stagnated in the same job groups for more than 20 years, and more seriously, TSC has adulterated Recognition Agreements. These, it appears, are designed to kill the teaching profession, and reverse gains under the Constitution.

The government has interfered with the running of trade unions. The trade movement is now on verge of collapse because of lack of funding after being denied the complete package of union dues. The CBAs have little value and Recognition Agreements are not tangible enough to guide unions into effective negotiations. Hence, the more than 300,000 Kenyan teachers are disoriented, demotivated and feel abandoned by the State especially at this period of Covid-19. It is important to restore sanity in the management of education.

Kenya needs a dedicated, highly knowledgeable and experienced CS, a team-player who will fix the perennial challenges in the Education sector, and steer the country to the next level.  

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