Why primary teachers’ college exam results should worry Kenyans

We spend an inordinate amount of time, resources and money looking at how to improve the quality of education in our schools. We are always worried about both the process and the outcome.

The questions we ask ourselves are always the same. How do we improve the quality of teaching and learning? How do we make our children more motivated and competitive? How do we get children to value and own their education?

This is, perhaps, why President Uhuru Kenyatta has decided that his administration will increase its budget allocation for education from 20 per cent to 30 per cent, which will make it among the highest in Africa.

Although there are many variables in producing a person who can positively contribute to society through the school system, there is only one consistent factor identified – the role of the teacher.

Teachers’ abilities and skill set, knowledge and enthusiasm are crucial in determining the success or otherwise of the children they teach.

Shocking results

This is why analysis showing that nearly half of teachers who take Primary Teacher Education (PTE) training courses in Kenya fail their final examinations is shocking. It is shocking because these are the very teachers we expect to guide our young ones, especially at the foundation stages.

The most recent data from the Kenya National Examinations Council (Knec) shows that for the past three years, 29,595 of 73,032 (41 per cent) teacher trainees failed. During this period, only 29 teachers passed with distinction.

This year alone, 10,723 of the 29,994 P1 trainee teachers who sat the examinations in public and private colleges failed. 10,457 of them have been given a referral, which means that next year they will resit one or more subjects.

According to Knec data, in the 2018 PTE examination, only 21 teachers passed with distinction while the majority – 12,388 – managed a credit. Some 5,581 had a pass. In the 2017 PTE examination, 12,749 of the 24,946 trainee teachers who sat the examinations failed. Only five teachers got a distinction while 8,773 managed a credit and 2,570 a pass.

This situation is worrying. This is because research shows that a teacher’s subject matter knowledge is closely associated with student learning. In this era of high standards and expectations, having a highly qualified teacher has never been more important.

It is worrying because even as the number of failures has been swelling over the past five years, the number of applicants to teacher colleges have been declining, leading the Ministry of Education to propose lowering the entry grade to D+.

Arguments and counter-arguments aside, having competent teachers in class is very important for any country.

For one, well-trained and qualified teachers, especially at the basic level, are central in the learning process.

This is why leaders of countries with high-performing education systems share a palpable conviction about the centrality of education in their dreams for their society — to raise people from poverty, achieve greater equality, develop a well-functioning multi-cultural society and, certainly, create a thriving economy and good jobs.

Master subjects

Secondly, teachers are required to not only master their subjects but also develop strong teaching skills. For this to happen, the training of teachers must be of high quality.

Teachers can then turn the knowledge they acquire into practical skills and pass them on to their students.

This is why the best-trained teachers are allocated to children in the early grades, where they can have the biggest impact on the weakest students. This is because reaching children at this young age can prevent them from dropping out before they have even learnt to read or write; it brings huge benefits to their learning potential later in life.

Thirdly, as we continue empowering and giving more authority to schools to do even more, they need a stronger and more focused teaching force.

Competent teachers focused on results are able to create the conditions that make effective teaching and learning possible.

It is clear that high-performing systems put the energy upfront in recruiting and supporting high-quality teachers rather than at the back end of reducing attrition.

Fourth, we need to look at the curriculum on offer in our teacher training colleges; look at the quality of their tutors, qualifications for entry for candidates and whether the duration of the training is appropriate for the content taught.

In the end, what is certain is that teacher quality matters.

Teachers need to keep learning and growing – it is not a profession for the cynical or the indifferent. 

Prof Mogambi teaches at the University of Nairobi: hmogambi @ yahoo.co.uk

Register to advertise your products & services on our classifieds website Digger.co.ke and enjoy one month subscription free of charge and 3 free ads on the Standard newspaper.

Primary Teacher EducationUniversity of NairobiAfricaKenya National Examinations CouncilKnec