Pay teachers well and you won’t have to change the curriculum

Kenya National Union of Teachers secretary general Wilson Sossion during a past media briefing. (Standard)
Critically speaking, it is not clear what was wrong with the 7-4-2-3 system of education in Kenya that we threw out to move to the highly discredited 8- 4- 4 system. Anyway, we are done with the latter and now moved on to the 2-6-3-3-3.

Perhaps we did not fully appreciate the strengths of the 7-4-2-3 because all the talk around competency in the 2-6-3-3-3 was considerably incorporated in the former. For instance, skills were taught in art and crafts at primary level while village polytechnics continued to offer career opportunities to students with talent and inclination to practical knowledge. Form V and VI provided the much needed specialisation in consideration of each student’s capacities.

Diploma colleges such as the Kenya Science College produced some of the most well refined teachers for practical sciences. Many other colleges offered trainings in teaching, farming, forestry and special needs among others. The students who proceeded to university, received further specialisation in areas of their choice.

Why was it changed?

The 7-4-2-3 system was nevertheless discarded for whatever reasons but the alternative was way below the set expectations. Years later, one wonders whether by doing away with the 8-4-4, which evidently has many weaknesses, we are replacing it with a superior option.

Besides, looking at the images circulating in the social media on the physical conditions of some schools in this country, one is left with hard questions on whether learners in such schools will withstand the demands of the 2-6-3-3-3 system.

The worry is that we are dead focused on the hardware forgetting the software. In a highly changing world literary in every sector of life, one can give a benefit of doubt to the government for proposing a transformation in the system of education best suited for Kenya. Fine, let us stick with the 2-6-3-3.

The blind spot to the policymakers and key education stakeholders is to imagine that a new system will solve all our education problems. We are working on assumption that our educational challenges are squarely based on getting the right system of education. We seem to blind ourselves that kids will embrace the 2-6-3-3-3 because it is student-centered in terms of teaching pedagogy.

We should now focus on the software. The teachers.

Running over teachers to ensure the syllabus “is covered” as it were, that they are always at school, they attend to student needs, they mark scripts on time, mentor students into various careers options, take students out for field trips, ensure high discipline and above all “ensure they pass (national) exams” is quite wish washy.

Teachers, like the good but ‘cash-strapped’ MPs and people in tender committees want a decent life however simple.

Greedy desires?

Teachers in this country have been struggling to get a better pay for the past three decades. They hardly get meaningful outcomes. They tried strikes again and again but they were encouraged to consider the plight of children vis a vis their “greedy desires” because the government could not meet the kind of wage bill they were after.

Like a teacher disciplining an errant student, the government talked tough, cajoled the teachers, threatened to sack and offer the vacancies to awaiting needy people ‘out there.’ Often, the poor teachers coil and retreat to their schools with nothing to raise their morale. Only the higher cadre got something worthy drooling for.

With many failed attempts to dialogue with the government to improve their low level livelihood, the teachers have come to reality that they are better off with “something small” at hand than the ten birds in the forest.  The main motivation for teachers now is when students “pass exams” so the PTAs can organise some impromptu reward harambees.

The cost of living continues to rise so sharply that teachers including lecturers must think of alternative sources of income to manage a simple but decent livelihood. But, even in trying to manage their lives this way, all kinds of barriers are placed before them so they can be stuck in one school doing one job.

The government is better advised to wake up to the reality- the hardware alone (the structures) will not improve the learning of students. It must be supported by the right software (teachers).

Cumulatively hustling teachers have the capacity to render the 2-6-3-3-3 useless.

Millions of children will go through the system only to discover 30 years on that the products of the systems lack the necessary competence skills, cannot handle the basics in the job market and are poor critical thinkers than those who went through the 8-4-4 system.

There must be a strong balance between the system and the people who operate the system.

The government has set the standard of living very high looking at the way it treats elected leaders. Everyone else is left chasing to arrive at that standard. Consequently, teachers will run after their own lives and leave behind the children since they are not supported to run together with the learners.

Dr Mokua is Executive Director – Jesuit Hakimani Centre

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