A teacher and a parent got into a heated altercation over a young child’s academic performance. The parent, throwing his weight around, insisted that the teacher’s fastidious approach to grammar lessons was an impediment to learning.
The teacher, on the other hand, averred that punctuation was an integral part of education.
Finally exasperated by the unyielding teacher, the hectoring parent picked up a piece of chalk and wrote on the blackboard: “The parent says the teacher is ignorant.”
Unmoved by the thinly-veiled insult, the teacher simply walked over to the blackboard, picked up the chalk and proceeded to add just two commas to the sentence so that it read: “The parent, says the teacher, is ignorant.”
While the story illustrates how meaning can be altered by transferring the burden of ignorance from teacher to parent by just two punctuation markers, it also aptly demonstrates the importance of sound education.
In a week of national preoccupation with the fight against corruption, it was excusable that a little newsworthy item regarding education would fall through the cracks.
It was reported that the Kenya National Qualifications Authority (KNQA) requirements for students joining teacher training colleges had been lowered to a D+ grade ostensibly to stem a decline in the numbers choosing the profession.
That entry requirements are now so deplorably low as to attract only the dregs of our education system points to our lopsided values and how we prioritise the trivial over what is cardinal.
It is a fact that teachers are not the top earners in Kenya. Other occupations are rewarded better for far less value.
If the level of remuneration were a determinant of what is important, teachers’ pay should rank above that of politicians. After all, a teacher is a professional whereas a politician is not.
For clarity’s sake, professionals, in the strictest sense of the word, are defined as people who possess a specialised body of knowledge that is acquired in a set time.
Teachers are also bound by a code of ethics in the discharge of their duties and are regulated by a body that prescribes conduct. They are, therefore, professionals, comparable to doctors, architects, engineers and lawyers. Politicians are not, regardless of repeated stints in the august House.
A favourite plumber is not a professional, nor is a driver or tailor. These are all tradesmen engaged in some craft or skill and yet earn far more than many teachers.
Teachers are the first port of call in the impartation of the ethos of a country. They must therefore be intelligent individuals able to not only imbibe a vast body of knowledge, but through skilful training, transfer it to nascent minds.
To expect a D+ qualification to mould a rocket scientist or a nuclear physicist is an extremely tall order. By any stretch of definition, a D+ is not a marker of great intelligence.
Suffice it to say, lowly-qualified teachers are a recipe for poor educational outcomes. Little wonder then that we are now attaining notoriety as the purveyors of half-baked graduates. And the inimical effects are evident in everyday life.
Some of these were seen recently when Government functionaries travelled overseas for important business meetings and did not carry so much as a notebook to take notes. Loans under unfavourable terms are negotiated this way.
Other effects are seen in the poor electoral choices we make every five years, of leaders of low moral probity, only for us to whine afterwards when they engage in economic plunder.
It is instructive to note that the leaders of yore were once teachers of note. Former president Daniel Moi started out as a teacher, as did Julius Nyerere of Tanzania.
Kenneth Kaunda and Robert Mugabe were also once teachers. This shows that teachers were once a venerated lot on the continent.
Today, in contrast, there is a casual disdain for teachers and by extension, education. Leaders are now drawn from the ranks of the marginally educated.
Because teachers are the custodians of societal mores, there must be a concerted effort to make the profession attractive. The Government must put a premium on high quality education by honouring collective bargaining agreements on teacher remuneration.
Selection must be from the ranks of top-performing candidates lured by a well-defined career path and not just a dumping ground for politically connected functional illiterates.
The future of our nation lies in the hands of great teachers!
Mr Khafafa is vice chairman, Kenya-Turkey Business Council