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For quality education, Kenya needs quality teachers

COMMENTARY
By Hezron Mogambi | October 5th 2018

The uproar in education circles in Kenya that has greeted the decision to lower the entry requirement for teacher training colleges shows why well trained teachers are still central in the learning process.

According to the new rules, students seeking to study for diploma in education will need a C plain or C- in the Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education (KCSE), down from the previous C+ while those seeking a certificate in education (popularly known as P1), will need a D+, down from a C plain.

And these changes are too important to just pass. This is because, with the important role a teacher plays in a child’s education, it should come as no surprise that training excellent teachers is a top priority for all who care. That is why leaders of countries with high-performing education systems share a palpable conviction about the centrality of education to their dreams for their society — to raise people from poverty, achieve greater equality, develop a well-functioning multi-cultural society and, certainly, create a thriving economy and a growing number of good jobs. And Kenya desires to be just that for all good reasons.

First, for good and well founded education systems, there must be a well founded widely shared long term vision inside and outside the education system. In Singapore, for example, the vision helped to propel their economy from third world to first; China’s 2020 vision was developed with online input from millions of people and includes universal high school graduation and world-class universities.

Local level

What this means for Kenya is that countries that excel set ambitious, universal and clear standards for all their students, typically at the national and local level. The fundamental problem with locally set standards is that they lead to wildly varying expectations of performance and lower achievement overall.

Leaders in every country proclaim their commitment to equity, but successful education systems focus on achieving equity in a strong and deliberate way.

Vision, leadership, high standards and commitment to equity are crucial starting points, but unless they affect teaching and learning in the classroom, they won’t bring about significant change. And there is broad agreement among high-performing and improving countries that no matter what reform strategy they are pursuing, the quality of an education system rests on the quality of its teachers. These systems adopt policies to attract, prepare, support, reward, retain, and advance high-quality teachers. Is Kenya doing this? The answer is no. This explains why teacher training colleges are now finding it hard to attract trainees and the future looks bleaker even as more teachers leave the classroom for ‘greener’ pastures.

Second, teachers are required to not only master their subjects, but also develop strong teaching skills. For this to happen, teachers must be of high quality; which they turn into practical skills and pass on to their students. This is perhaps why the best trained teachers are allocated to children in the early grades, where they can have the biggest impact on the weakest students. This is because reaching children at this young age can prevent them from dropping out before they have even learnt to read or write. It brings huge benefits to their learning potential later in life.

Many systems

Third, as systems devolve more authority to schools, the learning institutions need stronger leadership. School leaders focused on results are able to create the conditions that make effective teaching and learning possible. Many systems have created new frameworks and processes for training school leaders. In general, it is clear that high-performing systems put the energy upfront in recruiting and supporting high-quality teachers rather than on the back end of reducing attrition and firing weak teachers, or even daring to recruit weak trainees like Kenya’s case.

Fourth, recognising the increasingly interconnected and digital world into which we are moving, high-performing systems are going global, with teachers at the centre of all. These systems are developing a global and future orientation among their teachers, school leaders, and students.

They are modernising curriculum to deal with the imperatives of the 21st Century and forming international school partnerships to prepare students to function as workers and citizens in a globalised world, and not just their own local communities.

They also emphasize international bench-marking. They are constantly looking around the world for international best practices, and using bench-marking as a tool for improving their system.

What all this means is that teacher education quality in Kenya has been put in the too-hard basket for too long. A quality education system must be underpinned by quality teachers. The profession knows it, parents want it, our students deserve it and Kenya needs it.

Prof Mogambi is a Development communication and social change expert, University of Nairobi: hmogambi @ yahoo.co.uk

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