If there is one place where ego trips can never be quenched, it’s in the classroom. And for good reason.
The classroom is a complicated place where an artificial atmosphere is temporarily created and dismantled unceremoniously; learners from all walks of life meet and make it look like they are all born by the same parents.
The choirmaster in charge of this complex, yet fruitful environment, is the teacher. The teacher is in a computer lab; and the experiment must produce the best results as expected by all.
What this means is that, the eventual outcome depends on how the teacher works.
So if the teacher has everything right, children will be blessed with an engaging, and meaningful learning experience. That is what we all want, anyway.
But the reverse can also be true.
A disoriented, disgruntled and hurting teacher cannot be expected to drive the agenda of achieving quality education.
A disgruntled teacher cannot deliver properly and, in most cases, turns his/her anger on learners and even parents. Ultimately, this leads to poor quality teaching and learning.
Yet this is what the squabbles between Teachers Service Commission (TSC), the teachers’ employer, and the giant teachers union, Knut, are likely to yield.
The teachers’ union has a duty of enhancing quality standards by promoting the welfare of teachers, which in turn leads to effective teaching and learning for the benefit of learners and parents.
In this scenario which plays out everywhere else in the world, TSC and Knut are siamese twins of some sorts, they compliment each other.
Knut and TSC have fought over many issues including non-remittance of union dues, the sacking of Knut’s Wilson Sossion, salaries, allowances and promotions and the competency-based curriculum.
Lately, the emergence of Kenya Women Teachers Association has complicated this partneship.
Unfortunately, the teachers’ union and the commission have lost focus of the important issues and now appear to have gotten personal.
Both seem less serious about their roles and appear more interested in arm wrestling and ego trips at the expense of our children. As a result, millions learners and their parents now risk being collateral damage in the unfolding supremacy battle.
Yet, the essentials of good education are the same everywhere: A rigorous curriculum, effective instruction, adequate resources, willing students and a social and cultural climate in which education is encouraged and respected.
In all these, it is vital that teachers have a voice. The implementation of competency-based curriculum cannot possibly succeed when teachers—who are on the front lines of implementation—are left out of the decision-making process.
Partnerships and collaboration are vital ingredients in change management.
Teachers’ unions today, as in the past, must work to make these essentials available in all areas for every school and every student. But they cannot do it alone.
They must work with all other stakeholders and their employer and even elected representatives to advance these goals.
The unions will continue to be important so long as they advance the common good for all parties.
The teachers’ employer ought to be more progressive. TSC should, for example, deal with a grave, yet ignored issue—why newly recruited teachers are leaving the profession in droves within the first three years.
In its own report, the TSC indicates that new teachers are exiting the profession because of lack of support from administrators, colleagues, students and parents.
Shouldn’t it worry TSC that up to 44 teachers retire, die or resign daily in a sector that is facing a shortage of about 100,000 tutors?
Teachers are increasingly finding their work coming under undue “political” attack creating anxiety and depression among their lot.
They need protection. The unions have given them that the much-needed shield.
Therefore, TSC must encourage partnerships with teachers that benefit students and the country.
It should not be seen to be crushing the unions. Celebrating victory against the unions is only short-term; it could prove catastrophic in the long term.
Operating with stealth and confrontation does not help our collective plans for reform in the school system.
Prof Mogambi, a Communication and Social Change Expert, teaches at University of Nairobi. hmogambi @ yahoo.co.uk