As debate rages on whether the powers of the teachers’ employer should be checked, the reasons why this might be necessary must not get lost amid the acrimony.
At the centre of the ongoing controversy are the constitutional powers granted to the Teachers Service Commission that give it the mandate to register, employ, promote and transfer all licensed teachers under its payroll.
The Constitution also requires the TSC to assign teachers for service in any public school or institution, exercise disciplinary control and terminate their employment.
The Kenya National Union of Teachers (Knut), in its submission to the Building Bridges Initiative task force, called for the TSC to be stripped off its constitutional powers and instead be domiciled under the Ministry of Education, which will also approve its programmes and activities.
This position is supported by the Kenya Private Schools Association (KPSA) and the Kenya Association of International Schools (Kais) who say the TSC should be established as a strong semi-autonomous government agency within the ministry.
Knut argues that the TSC gets its budgetary allocations directly from the National Treasury, adding that this has complicated the relationship between the teachers’ employer and ministerial sector heads at Jogoo House.
The Kenya Union of Post-Primary Education Teachers (Kuppet), on the other hand, has vowed to oppose any attempt to disband the TSC.
Union officials have stated that they will continue to push for the strengthening of the mandate that allows the TSC to manage teachers.
Education Cabinet Secretary George Magoha has also waded into the controversy and challenged MPs to exercise their wisdom on the matter.
Nearly all the ministers who have headed the Education docket since the promulgation of the Constitution in 2010 have had a run-in with the TSC.
Last year, the TSC had to defend its autonomy in court when Education Cabinet Secretary Amina Mohamed attempted to lower entry grades for teacher trainees.
The teachers’ employer sought the counsel of the Attorney General over the ministry’s actions and even dragged Amina to court in a nasty encounter that laid bare the fight to control the country’s teachers.
It is generally agreed that ministry officials do not have any control of teachers who, ironically, are at the centre of implementing programmes initiated by the ministry.
Teaching, surprisingly, is the only sector where the employer also acts as a regulator of its professionals.
Other bodies, for example, the Engineers Board of Kenya, Kenya Medical and Dentists Practitioners Board, and the Board of Registration of Architects and Quantity Surveyors of Kenya, are regulators independent from the employers.
As an employer, the Ministry of Health, for instance, does not regulate the conduct of doctors, nurses and other medics. It also does not set minimum qualifications on who is trained as a health practitioner, a function left to an independent regulator.
The ministry, however, sets criteria for the kind of staff who are employed.
The Amina saga saw TSC embroiled in a fight on the nature of the qualifications of teacher trainees.
Haphazard pronouncements have been made to the effect that the minimum qualification of trainees be raised to C+. But some stakeholders have argued that if C+ is the minimum degree entry grade, why would the same apply for a teaching diploma programme?
Arguments have also been made on whether trainees from certain regions should benefit from affirmative action through the lowering of entry grades.
Even as Kuppet has voiced strong support of the TSC, its officials have also observed that most of the issues being blamed on the TSC are the result of the commission undertaking functions that do not belong to it as an employer.
It also makes sense that both the KPSA and Kais are behind the push to have the powers of the teachers’ employer neutered.
Both bodies are also employers of teachers hence they are in competition with the TSC and, consequently, regularly find themselves encumbered by regulations that they don’t agree with.
Under the TSC Act (2013), the commission is empowered to validate the credentials of foreign-trained teachers who wish to work in Kenya. Some international schools have said that they find the rules to be ridiculous.
The best way to address these issues is to have a strong independent regulator working in liaison with the Kenya National Qualifications Authority.
The regulator would also handle discipline issues. After all, it is not strange to find such cases dragging on in the corridors of TSC for up to five years.
The TSC should only retain teacher management functions such as employment, promotions, transfers, implementing professional development tools, and career progression.
Education stakeholders should now shift the debate and channel their energies on how the two functions of professional employment and regulation can be delinked, as is the case for engineers, doctors and architects.