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Teachers’ mad rush for useless degrees

By | August 23rd 2009 at 12:00:00 GMT +0300

By Wachira Kigotho

The Teachers Service Commission has directed teachers to seek clarifications on degrees or courses they should study to avoid being irrelevant.

In a comprehensive study, Report on School Based Learning Programmes Survey, TSC said most teachers pursuing further education on School Based Learning Programme (SBLP) are not getting relevant skills.

Inside and outside the universities, school based learning degree programmes are considered inferior to full-time or parallel courses.

Teachers under the SBLP face various hurdles including lack of enough time to study and books. "Most have no books and rely on lecturers’ notes that are sketchy," one student attending classes at Kenya Railways Training Institute said.

Most teachers are pursuing irrelevant courses that have little bearing in their work

According to Dr Carrol Bidemi, an expert on parallel programmes in East African universities, most of those courses are for money making.

"Students have become sources of revenue," says Bidemi.

TSC Secretary General Gabriel Lengoiboni shares the concerns. He recently told top brass of the Kampala International University (KIU) to consider the plight of Kenya’s primary school teachers who take huge loans to study at the university that has recruiting centres in Nairobi and western Kenya.

The issue was that KIU had not followed credible admission criteria. Teachers were only required to have a P1certificate, something Lengoiboni says is not part of basic admission criteria for university education in Kenya.

But whereas local public and private universities may have adhered to the basic admission guidelines, TSC is worried of the quality of the school based learning programmes, where students study for less than nine weeks a year. And to make the matters worse in some universities, students are studying for only six weeks a year.

Lack of textbooks compounds the teacher students’ woes. Many are not members of their university’s libraries as they are registered in universities’ academic sites where there are no libraries. School based students are scattered in different areas in urban centres where universities rent temporary facilities.

"We don’t need textbooks. Everything is in the lecturers’ manuals," a primary school teacher attending the Kenyatta University school based programme at Ruiru said.

Although the TSC survey covered Egerton University, Maseno University, Masinde Muliro University of Science and Technology, Kenya Methodist University, University of Nairobi, Kenyatta University and the Catholic University of Eastern Africa, most universities in the country have or are intending to open more school based learning programme sites for primary and non-graduate teachers.

The catch

The competition for local primary school and non-graduate teachers has spilled to Uganda’s private universities, notably KIU, Kampala University and Bugema University, among others.

Because of low tuition fees, KIU enjoys the largest share of Kenyan students in universities in Uganda. According to the university’s Vice Chancellor Prof Muhamud Ndahula out of the 9,000 Kenyans studying in KIU 4,000 are employed by the TSC.

The catch is that teachers are required to attend classes and sit examinations only during the school holidays.

Unlike the regular students who have to earn full credit hours by attending classes at university campuses, school-based students have the luxury of ‘learning’ at their workstations and have limited contact hours with their lecturers. Bearing in mind the rigorous work needed in some subjects, many teachers have opted for ‘soft courses’ in guidance and counselling, special needs education and early childhood education.

According to the TSC, these are ‘generalists’ who are not able to handle any special needs education area and were not adding any value to the education system.

Inadequate facilities

"It should be noted that special needs education graduates have not been trained in specific areas of disability hence do not have prerequisite skills to work in special needs schools," says the commission.

Most institutions have no facilities or capacity to teach special education, but they teach it anyway.

"Majority of primary teachers on school-based programmes were motivated by promotion and deployment to post primary institutions rather than professional growth," says the TSC survey.

A university official recently told this writer: "If our clients are in need of those services, why not offer the courses?" Pressed further to explain why universities were offering sub-standard programmes he said: "It is for the students to know which courses are needed in the job market."

There is high demand for the ordinary diplomas in education, postgraduate diploma in education; bachelor of education and masters degrees offered in school based learning programmes. Limited avenues for promotion of primary school teachers fuel the high demand for those qualifications. Sources at the TSC early last week said only less that 2.5 per cent of the 180,000 primary teachers in the country are promoted each year from an equivalent of job group G to Job Group H.

"So in this case, the teachers want to beat the system in its own game," he said. By getting a BEd degree, a P1 teacher effectively enters the Graduate Teachers Scheme of Service and is promoted to an equivalent of Job Group K in the public service.

However, the red flag being raised by the TSC in terms of education and training of teachers in the country is of major concern, particularly now that most parents and other stakeholders are concerned about the quality of education in most public primary and secondary schools.

Observers say though universities operate under their charters and Acts of Parliament, they have a responsibility to ensure the teachers they train are of high quality.

Although the TSC survey is limited in its coverage, it is an eye opener as to why there should be consultations between the TSC and the universities on how the BEd degree should be reformed.