Why we must make education top priority and pay our teachers well

Teachers Service Commission CEO Nancy Macharia when she appeared before the National Assembly Education Committee on the budget estimates by the MDAs in Nairobi on May 15, 2023. [Boniface Okendo, Standard]

Education helps us realise our full potential while broadening our horizons. It helps us recognise our strengths and weaknesses, learn new cultures, and new languages.

It helps us identify opportunities and gives us capacity to seize them. It helps us sharpen and develop critical skills and mental agility, decision-making, problem-solving, logical thinking, and innovation; enables financial stability and networking. It gives status in society, a good career, independence and self-confidence. We are able to communicate and understand the world around us and have well-paying jobs because we got a good education.

Education is important but quality and good education are what makes the difference. The Constitution provides for the right of everyone to education without exception as a social and economic right.

This means the government must ensure universal and equal access to inclusive and equitable quality education and learning, which should be free and compulsory irrespective of gender, disabilities or social and economic situation.

However, learning to read and write or acquiring basic literacy and numeracy skills is not enough. For education to make a difference, it must be transformative and equip us with creative, critical thinking, and collaborative skills, while building curiosity, courage and resilience.

Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 4 obliges member states to ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all by 2030 with ten key targets. Education is at the core of SDGs because without it being achieved the other 16 SDGs will have little chance. It is important that it is a target in other SDGs such as health, growth and employment, sustainable consumption and production, and climate change. It is critical to all SDGs because it has capacity to facilitate their full realisation. For example, education lifts people from poverty and hunger. Therefore, governments must invest heavily in quality and lifelong education.

In South Korea, education is much valued and teachers are among the best remunerated public servants. Sadly, in Kenya, the education sector is always struggling with inadequate state funding and teachers including university lecturers are among least paid public servants, yet everyone is able to read, communicate, write and engage gainfully because of teachers.

Many learners are unable to continue with their education because although we have free primary education and free secondary tuition, there are many expenses associated with education, which most parents and guardians cannot afford.

Education PS informed us this week that a million or so learners do not have funds allocated to them in the main budget and they may have to be catered for in the supplementary budget. Again!

There is insufficient funding for education, from basic to university education. We run real risk of jeopardising our future because the future wealth creators, taxpayers and leaders of tomorrow are educated and nurtured today.

We suffer irreparable damage due to bad governance and lack of accountability when government policy, national resources, and public affairs are managed by semi-illiterate people without capacity to understand and embrace the importance of sustainable development, good governance and accountability.

Ensuring equity, inclusion, and gender equality is key to sustainable development and intricately linked to quality education.

While it is important for government to address youth unemployment through all means such as the Hustler Fund, to ensure Kenya is not a country of future hustlers and to ease unemployment and ensure sustainable development, we must invest in and prioritise equal and equitable access to life-long and all-inclusive quality education and remunerate and facilitate those working in the sector better.

Nelson Mandela said, "Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world." He observed that "the power of education extends beyond the development of skills we need for economic success. It can contribute to nation-building and reconciliation, and a good head and a good heart are always a formidable combination. But when you add to that a literate tongue or pen, then you have something very special."

We must get our priorities right; we must make education our national priority number one.