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Shock as teachers fail subject tests

By By AUGUSTINE ODUOR | Published Thu, November 28th 2013 at 00:00, Updated November 27th 2013 at 23:08 GMT +3
Pupils work on mathematical problems in a classroom. A new study has revealed that only 45 per cent of Government employed teachers understand the content of the subjects they teach.  [PHOTO: MBUGUA KIBERA/STANDARD]


Kenya: Children in primary schools are being taught by academic failures, a new survey has shown.

The study conducted by the African Population and Health Research Centre (APHRC) between January and March last year paints a grim picture of primary school teachers who failed simple tests administered to them in the subject areas they teach.

A third of the teachers tested during the research period scored below 40 per cent in mathematics and other subjects they teach, with some of them attaining as low as 10 per cent.

This means that primary school teachers may have to undergo competence vetting and subject specialisation introduced if the Government adopts the findings of the study.

Both mathematics and English teachers sat tests to determine content knowledge and whether they had the skills to teach the subjects.

The study further tested whether the teachers were able to organise mathematics content for direct instruction to pupils, their knowledge of the common instructions of the subject and the challenges pupils face when learning the subject.

The report, titled Quality Access to Education in Urban Informal Settlements in Kenya, also indicated that Standard Three pupils in private schools perform better than their counterparts in public and low cost schools.

The survey took place in urban informal settlements in Kisumu, Eldoret, Mombasa, Nairobi, Nakuru and Nyeri.

Releasing the report yesterday, Education Research Programme leader Moses Ngware said the findings are “a significant indicator of the quality of education being delivered in classrooms”.

“Would you trust a teacher who scores less than 40 per cent in the subjects they teach to impart proper knowledge to your child? These teachers are not qualified to teach our children because they also failed in these subjects,” said Dr Ngware.

He challenged the Government to consider introducing subject specialisation in primary schools just as is done in secondary schools.

“This can be done gradually such that after five years, we have teachers who teach what they know best,” he added.

Education Cabinet Secretary Jacob Kaimenyi said it would be proper if teachers taught subjects in their areas of competence.

“You cannot be good in every subject. I advise that we should teach what we are good at. It doesn’t make sense to teach what you are not good at,” he said.

Currently, primary school teachers are trained to teach all subjects. This means that all primary school teachers must be able to teach any subject from Standard One to Eight.

APHRC Executive Director Allex Ezeh said a positive impact would only be realised if teachers are allowed to teach what they are good at.

“This will translate into even more positive impact because one mathematics teacher can teach many more classes in the school,” he said.

The report disclosed that mathematics teachers in lower grades (Standard One to Three) were less knowledgeable compared to their counterparts in upper primary.


For instance, Standard Three teachers in Nairobi scored 46 per cent compared to teachers in Standard Six teaching the same subject who scored 60 per cent, the report states.

And those in Eldoret scored 42 per cent against 53 per cent in lower and upper grades respectively.

Some 230 schools with children aged between 5 and 20 years, and 5,854 households were interviewed in a study that also shows a significant drop in child enrollment in public schools in slums.

Overall, only 45 per cent of Government employed primary school teachers have content command of the subjects they teach.

The report further reveals that parents are continually enrolling their children in low cost and formal private schools in pursuit of quality education. The study indicates that the enrollment rate has dropped from 65 per cent in 2003 to the current 37 per cent.

“Only 25 per cent perceived education offered in public schools as being of good quality…77 per cent perceived that the quality of education has gone down in public schools based on teachers’ performance,” reads the report.

It also says that teachers teach five hours less than the average required rates per week.

“The average teaching hours per week should be between 20 and 24…the average teaching load is between 16 and 17 hours in Government. This translates to between 255 and 275 hours in a year, much less than is reported in literature,” reads the report.

It adds: “With the daily average number of teachers’ absence of 13 per cent in urban government schools, the number of hours taught in a year is less than the 255.”

“Overall, less than 12 per cent of teachers interviewed in all schools taught for at least 21 hours in a week.”

Teachers cited domestic responsibilities, and attendance of professional development and departmental committees as reasons for being absent from school.

They also mentioned consultation with other teachers and attending union meetings as some of the reasons for absenteeism. The study also revealed that ‘old’ teachers do not translate their teaching experience to better academic performance among the pupils they teach.



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