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Why retiring education degrees doesn't make economic sense

By XN Iraki | June 7th 2021
A section of 1300 graduates celebrate after were conferred [Kibata Kihu, Standard]

If the proposal to end Bachelor of Education (BEd) degree courses goes through, I will be a proud owner of an extinct degree. 

Of keen interest is why such a popular degree is being killed. Almost every university, particularly the public ones, offers it. 

The main reason given for pulling the plug on BEd courses is the professionalisation of teaching.

In the proposed programme, teachers will get the content then learn how to deliver it through a post-graduate diploma in education, more like lawyers going to the Kenya School of Law.

Such a diploma was common in the past for Bachelor of Arts (BA) or Bachelor of Science (BSc) graduates who wanted to be teachers. Is it still there?  

The proposal is great but contestable. Let us look at the merits first.

For starters, it may raise the prestige of the professional by making it “hard” to get into. An extra year demands patience, extra work and money. It gives the future teachers more time to reflect after the first degree if teaching is their calling.

Setting standards on who can join the Postgraduate Diploma in Education, including high school grades, will definitely make teaching “cool.”  

I have argued that teaching or lecturing is more about the “calling” than the money you stand to earn. 

It can be a very miserable job if you take it because there was no other job available. Unlike some jobs, you can’t hide your incompetence in teaching. 

This proposal may inject new thinking into education by getting graduates from outside the country into teaching.

Teaching, like policing, is manned by homegrown talents. This is why both professions are very hard to reform. How many Teachers Service Commission-affiliated teachers have BEd from outside the country? 

Some claim it is an ingenious way to reduce the number of jobless teachers, not just BEd degree holders but also primary and diploma graduates. An economist would call that a forced market correction. 

But the proposal can be contested in a number of ways. One is that there is sufficient research to demonstrate that a teacher with a postgraduate diploma is more effective than one with a BEd degree.

This is a simple study; we have both types of teachers in the service. We ask them about their experience or even ask their students.  

Two, an extra year of schooling is expensive for prospective teachers in terms of time and forgone earnings.

If the teacher earns an average of Sh50,000 a month and we have 100,000 secondary school teachers, this translates to Sh5 billion lost monthly or Sh60 billion annually.

The proposal makes professional but not economic sense. 

Three, if the content is the issue, the employer - TSC or the Commission for University Education (CUE) - should just specify the number of units or credit hours a teacher should take.

If a teacher can take them together with education, the better. Don’t we have dual degrees? Don’t we have majors and minors? 

Four, BEd, as well as BA and BSc students, usually take the same units in the university. This is efficient in terms of time and money.  

Five, many BEd graduates never teach and end up shifting to other professions.

The knowledge they gain after studying education is very useful in their new professions. 

Education includes courses in psychology, sociology, philosophy, economics, statistics and communication. That broadmindedness is an asset later on in life.  

Six, and more critical, is what will happen to all the dons who have been lecturing in education? What was taught in four years will be taught in one year as a postgraduate diploma. 

We could ask aloud: Why are we discriminating against teachers? In other countries, lawyers, journalists, and accountants need a first degree before focusing on their professions.

The thinking is that one needs a firm grounding in content before learning “how to.” 

The reforms in BEd need to be broadened to university education in general. The introduction of the Competency-Based Curriculum (CBC) demands this.

In addition to the changes in technology, our laws and culture demand that we keep changing the way we educate the next generation. 

The reforms should go beyond the number of years we spend in school and their permutations to content development. 

The laptop project was a great idea to ensure learners get the latest ideas, bypassing textbooks. Of keen interest to me is ensuring that schools have well-equipped science laboratories and ICT infrastructure. 

Concrete structures like expressways increase economic efficiency. We need such structures in education to make it more efficient for students to acquire the latest knowledge, develop new knowledge, solve problems, create enterprises, and help make planet Earth a better home. 

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