We risk losing a generation to demoralised teachers, lecturers

Mahiakalo Primary School Deputy Head teacher Julia Mulamula gives out text books to junior secondary school pupils on April 19, 2023. [Benjamin Sakwa, Standard]

Loyola Centre for Media and Communications recently conducted an indicative survey to measure the social, spiritual and communication and technology Resilience of young people aged 18-25 years.

We administered an online questionnaire to 553 across the country. Most are university students. We also carried out Focus Group Discussions (FGDs) and expert interviews. Lessons learned from the survey show a compelling need to power the resilience of young people because some of them are struggling to find meaning in life.

Some 42.8 per cent (202) of respondents feel “No one cares about me. I feel all alone.” 53.8 per cent (254) of the respondents are deep into drug and substance abuse. 33.1 per cent (156) of respondents disapprove the government action of arresting students involved in smoking, drinking hard stuff and engaging in sexual activities in secret places. And, 43.6 per cent (206) of the respondents are addicted to social media.

Many young people are non-committal to having children if they marry. Only 25.4 per cent (142) are committed. The most pressing need for about half of the respondents 46.6 per cent (260) is severe financial difficulties to meet basic needs. For decades, teachers and lecturers have had run-ins with the government demanding better working conditions. Three outstanding figures who epitomize this struggle are the late Ambrose Adongo and Wilson Sossion, who led the then giant Kenya Nation Union of Teachers (Knut).

The late Prof Muga K’Olale became the rallying symbol for the University Academic Staff Union (Uasu). Although the teachers and lecturers made some incremental gains as a result of the strikes, they would organize, by and large they remain poorly remunerated with minimal opportunities their lives will significantly improve.

Many teachers work to receive a salary in a fairly hostile environment. Ethically, teachers don’t just teach. They mentor learners. However, given that the world has become highly litigious and learning institutions particularly universities treating learners as customers who have all the rights to get what they want and behave the way they choose to, many teachers fold their hands in addressing anything that is not directly related to examination and personal performance rating. No wonder our record for exam cheating is not pretty impressive. There is a moral equivalence here. What has further contributed to a demoralised teaching workforce is the way the executive and legislature arms of government generously treat themselves while calling everyone else to tighten their belts. Regime after regime, teachers find themselves cornered yet they are expected to produce stellar performances in national examinations while their fellow colleagues who jump into politics or get appointments in government pull off massive personal investments that in essence demean the work of teachers in forming learners into responsible citizens.

In the same survey, 48.7 per cent (230 out of 553) of the respondents like teachers who are not demanding. Demanding teachers are defined as the ones that give minimal assignments, provide learners with notes, do not push students to read several books and journal articles or engage in in-depth academic analysis. We have to remember that many teachers are demoralised and after all the education system does not have clear upward career mobility packages.

To lapse into minimalism is therefore a survival strategy. Moreover, with Artificial Intelligence (AI) assisted learning tools continuously reducing the need for children and students going into physical libraries to read, summarise documents and synthesize main arguments in their learning domain we are staring at a totally new way of teaching and learning.

How do we come out of this grim situation? We need a national conversation on what kind of citizens we need and then tailor our education to produce the kind of graduate we want. The current pacifying political narratives feeding into the education system are deadly to the character formation of learners. In brief, we have a duty and responsibility to educate children to find meaning in their own lives as well as become responsible happy citizens.

Dr Mokua is executive director, Loyola Centre for Media and Communication