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Why teaching is one of the most thankless jobs today

OPINION
By XN Iraki | Nov 19th 2019 | 4 min read
By XN Iraki | November 19th 2019
OPINION

The soft underbelly of our education system is not the number of years one spends at the three levels, namely primary, secondary or university.

It is not the physical facilities; it’s the teacher - the conveyor belt of our values, dreams, ethos and national aspirations.

Yet, we spend a lot of time debating the number of years one should spend at each level, shuffling the years around from 7.6.3 to 8.4.4 and now 2.6.6.3.

It’s unlikely that’s the last permutation on the school years. The latest permutation is about shifting from rote learning (memorisation technique based on repetition) to discovery and nurturing creativity.

This sounds more like the American reaction to the Soviet Union after the launch of the first artificial satellite - Sputnik.

School system

What is our education system reacting to? New constitution? Vision 2030, the Big Four or global realities or creation of a legacy? In all these permutations, the teacher remains the constant factor. Yet, we don’t focus enough attention on the men and women who run our school system and constitute the biggest percentage of government employees and elite in rural areas.

We shall never run an effective education system no matter the permutation of years among the various levels without acknowledging the centrality of the teacher.

The teacher is more like a conveyor belt, transferring our culture and knowledge from one generation to the next.

Teachers carry the burden of two generations, their own and the next one, called children.

It’s a hard and draining job.  But to most ordinary Kenyans, it’s the easiest job, just talking. Familiarity breeds contempt. We have all been taught, but rarely have court cases or medical problems or engineering projects.

The difficulty of the teaching profession is accentuated by the fact that teachers deal with the most complex system in the universe, the human brain.

Add the stereotypes, the prejudices and the great expectations and the job can be overwhelming. Today, it has become worse because teachers have become a societal dustbin.

Noted that once we have a national problem, the solution is “put it in the curriculum”, from HIV/AIDS to corruption?

We rarely suggest what should be removed from the curriculum. Squeezed between demanding parents, governments and students, teaching has become a risky job. 

What percentages of teachers are suffering from high blood pressure? What of burnouts?  Add the law that has removed all the power from the teacher and the job becomes even more difficult.

Teachers and the presidency have one thing in common: they both have been losing power.

They have lost power when they need it most because of the fast-changing social and economic circumstances.

We could ask loudly: to what extent can the current problems in society be attributed to this powerlessness?

Enough digression. How can we help Kenya’s most hardworking men and women?

Teaching is hard work because it’s hard to delegate. Politicians send their representatives to functions. Who do teachers send?

 Do we ever wonder how fast our GDP would grow if we had an inspired generation, itself inspired by inspired teachers at all levels? One way to make teaching more inspirational is to attract more A-students to the profession.

Creativity and ingenuity

It is one of the paradoxes of our times; we channel A-students to engineering or medicine which have formulas, precedence and therefore easier than education.

Teaching different kids every year is not easy. The kids bring all their problems, including failure of parenting to you.

To help such kids, you need to be an A-student.

Teachers have no tables or formulas like engineers or architects. They handle each case as it comes, demanding rare creativity and ingenuity.

Some think that if we raised the pay for teachers, more A-students would be interested in the profession. But it’s more than pay. The teachers must find their job more fulfilling and less controlled. How about raising the entrance requirements for Bachelor of Education and demanding that teachers at all levels must have a degree?

We also demand only those who choose education as the first choice are admitted to training as teachers.

This will create a cadre of passionate and dedicated teachers. With such a motivated group, we could even do away with national exams and let teachers do the evaluation.

The working conditions need improvement too. It’s not just the physical conditions but emotional conditions too. They need more freedom to do their work and even experiment, more like parenting.

Maybe we should borrow a leaf from Germany, where academic freedom is enshrined in the Constitution.

Once we improve the entrance requirements, we shall raise the prestige of the profession and standards of education. We shall make Kenya a more competitive economy driven by competitive brains.

And while at it, how come accountants have CPA exams, financial analysts CFA and so on while teachers have no such exams such as certified Maths Teacher beyond academic degrees?

Surprisingly, the prestige of teachers should be very high. Only one of our presidents has been a teacher.

Teachers, and not physical facilities and permutation of years one spends in each level of education, hold the key to making our educated men and women the envy of other countries.

More focus on teachers could help us achieve Vision 2030 before 2030.

-The writer is an Associate Professor at the University of Nairobi.  

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