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CS Fred Matiang’i must remain firm and clean up troubled education sector

By Billow Kerrow | July 31st 2016
Mandera Senator Billow Kerrow

NAIROBI: Education Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang’i should remain firm, and pursue his determination to clean up the education sector without looking over his shoulder. He is doing a great job cracking the whip in a ministry living in the Jurassic age, whose leadership is content with the rustic status quo and one that has long been held hostage by raucous union leaders. His actions will obviously be met with resistance, even violently. But he should ignore the usual distractions by the political class and other stakeholders and stay the course unrepentantly.

Over 100 public secondary schools have been hit by arsonist attacks, destroying property and disrupted learning. The number may be small given that there are over 9,000 secondary schools in the country but the escalating attacks have created fear and confusion in public boarding secondary schools. As usual, blame games continue with some quarters evening calling for extreme measures, such as the closure of the schools. Others have blamed it all on the Matiang’i and urged him to quit. I think it is utter nonsense, and he must ignore them.

Many possible reasons have been proffered for the seemingly systematic, and perhaps coordinated, wave of attacks in schools. The Cabinet Secretary and his officials believe cartels around KNEC who benefitted from examinations leakages could be behind the attacks. The KNEC top team was disbanded, and officials charged in court. Then there are the huge corruption cartels around the procurement of books in schools that were not spared the whip by the CS. Teachers and school managers not happy with these reforms could be involved in the unrest.

Other possible reasons suggested include a disconnect between adolescent students in a modern, dynamic world with unmet demands and a rigid schools management that is largely steeped in old tradition. Public schools reportedly lack adequate counselling structure for the adolescents they manage. The trade unions and their diehard supporters are unhappy with the hardball played by the ministry, and TSC that rubbed their nose in the dirt. They have a beef with the ministry on the term dates, the proposed change to the 8-4-4 system, the scrapping of ranking in schools, the proposal to place teachers on performance contracts, you name it! Still, others think the fires are the work of cultist devil worshippers who have infiltrated schools — remember the task force on this matter whose report was never published?

Dozens of teachers and students have been arrested for involvement in the arson attacks. Police investigators should be able to delve into the motive of the attacks, reveal the masterminds, and provide Kenyans with answers. It is inconceivable that a group of students can plan to execute an attack and the school leadership has absolutely no clue at all. The ministry should take sterner action against the school leadership over their negligence, and culpability as the buck stops with them. I believe such firm action will act as deterrent to the rest of the schools.

There is a lot that needs to be done to reform this ministry and wash out the dirt. Matiang’i can and should do it. Remember the Michuki effect on the matatu industry? Stay the course!

He should disregard busybodies, including the political class who are apt to play to the gallery as election fever heats up. This ministry is about the future of our children and it must not be a pawn to the various interests that seek to maintain the status quo. Above all, parents should stand with the ministry and be cautious about short-term interests that will stifle the spirit of reform in the education sector.

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