There is more to plight of Kenyan teachers than meets the eye

Kenya National Union of Teachers(KNUT) Secretary General Wilson Sossion address press on 29th December 2018 at KNUT office in Nairobi. [Edward Kiplimo,Standard]

Teachers in Kenya have been staging strikes for the past three decades, but none has really pushed the Government to the wall. And, any present or future strike rehearsals to negotiate with the government for an improved package for the services they render to learners may not bear fruit that trickles down to the classroom teacher after all.

Why, you may ask, and the answer is; teachers are not MPs.

Teachers are a considerably disadvantaged lot in organising themselves as reasonable value before their employer – the government. Over the years, beginning with one articulate Ambrose Adongo (RIP) who fought with conviction for the interests of the teachers to the present Kenya National Union of Teachers (Knut) Secretary General Honorable Wilson Sossion, teachers’ strikes have been, at best, disruptive to the learners’ calendar, but not yielding much in terms of their reasons for striking.

Compare that with MPs demand for an improved package for the services they render (well, not sure mostly to whom), but occasionally for the country. The MPs have a stick and carrot to dangle to both the executive and the judiciary.

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They can reward by passing all manner of bills and ruthlessly punish when their demands are not negotiated to their satisfaction.

Further, teachers do not constitute a voting block even if on paper they can discredit a candidate for an elective post.

When a chance like the general election arises, instead of teachers making a strong statement on what they expect from those seeking their votes, they simply scatter into ethnic conclaves, forgetting their livelihood cause.

The protagonist

What the government’s leadership is really good at is ignoring or dismissing demonstrations and protests that do not threaten its grip on power. For this, the ODM-Nasa protests were much more successful in pushing the government to negotiate. Even then, the opposition suffered casualties compared to the protagonist.  In the case of teachers, the employer has all the resources to severe the relationship without ceding much ground, if at all.

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Looking at the Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education (KCSE) 2018 results, just like the ones before, particularly the last five years, the number of candidate failures, that is, scores D and below, is way higher than those considered to have passed (A to D+). According to the results released late December last year, only 15 percent of over 600,000 students would make it to University. Another small percentage, say 10 per cent, would find their way to colleges and hopefully make it to University one day in the future.

By interpretation, the exam result figures tell us that more than half of the schools in this country produce failures. This could mean that most teachers have minimal knowledge about the exams they prepare students for; or the students they teach are predetermined to fail regardless of what the teachers do; or the conditions of learning in more than half the schools in Kenya cannot allow students pass; or both the teachers and students in most schools in the country have no idea what the exam is all about and so prepare poorly.

Beaten teachers

All these possible explanations ignore two fundamental systemic problems. Teachers have been on the streets for quite a while and there does not seem to be someone in government who truly listens to what pushes them to the streets. Beaten teachers on the streets vent their frustrations in classrooms and the results are out there for anyone who cares to interrogate and contextualize them.

Grades D, D- and E are not accidentals on score sheets. Someone ‘works’ for that grade! To be sure, compare the conditions of well performing schools with those producing a high number of failures. In general, the disparity is wide in favor of the well-endowed schools.

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The second problem lies with the government attitude towards failures. Over the years the government releases results with such bravado promising much on commitment to improve performance. Well, stats are very stubborn. Just a casual look at, say, last year’s KCSE results reveals that there is minimal improvement in most schools, right from Mombasa, Malaba,Moyale to Isebania.

Instead of covering its head in shame for the massive failures, and instead of helping the children who failed understand why so many of them could not pass after eight years of schooling, the government is rolling out a new, yet controversial curriculum. In figures, for example, add the failures of the past three years and you have about one million little young adults staring at living a hopeless life.

Surely, how do we “see the other side” of this argument – the government side – when the dampening national exam results compel us on what to say? Human resource is the main asset for any performing institution. To address this mess, the government should treat teachers with the respect they deserve.

Dr Elias Mokua is Executive Director – Jesuit Hakimani Centre

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