February 25th 2018

Society / Education

Praise Matiangi to the skies, but don't forget his blunders

Former ministers of Education have been invariably perfecting the art of talking more and doing little, if not nothing. This sector, for more than a decade, has borne the brunt of individualistic ineptitude and inadequacies coupled with a wide range of managerial and administrative blunders.

By Athanas Kipchumbaakipchumba@kenyafreepress.comSaturday, 17 Dec 2016 16:58 EAT

Cabinet secretary for Education Dr Fred Matiang'i.

The recent entry of 'The Bulldozer', as many would call the no-nonsense cabinet secretary for Education Dr Fred Matiang'i, has given a new lease of life to the Education sector that had hitherto been riddled with corpus of challenges. Some of these impugns in question could be shirked away, had his predecessors been willing to put the house in the apple pie order.

Honestly speaking, former ministers of Education have been invariably perfecting the art of talking more and doing little, if not nothing. This sector, for more than a decade, has borne the brunt of individualistic ineptitudes and inadequacies coupled with a wide range of managerial and administrative blunders. The erstwhile incumbents of the Education ministry did not really meet the expectations of Kenyans, particularly those who have heavily invested in education of their children. They simply fell short of the parents and other stakeholders' lofty anticipations.

What are some of these tall expectations, you may ask? Though I didn't want to wander around these array of long-held desires, let me shed some light on them succinctly. Well, for a long time, perennial teachers' strikes for better remuneration and ameliorated working conditions have almost been our national 'menu'. It has been certainly nightmarish for both the government and the parents whose children school at public institutions. Private schools have never undergone such turbulent academic [or is it educational/learning?] moments, for obvious causes.

In their constant prayers and supplications to the Most High, parents have been asking God to enable the powers-that-be to solve this stalemate once and for all, in the most harmonious way possible. Nonetheless, teachers' unions and the top government bureaucrats in the education ministry treated each other with suspicions at the negotiation table, thus setting stage for endless acrimonious discords whose bottom line has been incessant paralysis of learning in all public schools in the country. This has been a deep-running betrayal of Kenyan children. Certainly, Kenyan parents and teachers pegs their high hopes on Dr Matiang'i. They hope that the CS will address, rather dramatise just like his predecessors this disconcerting issue of teachers' strike, once and for all. Kenyans wants it dead and buried!

Now, let me turn my mirror on the management of national exams; KCPE in particular. True, the CS deserves my rare and high commendation for his stellar work of restoring the-long-faded examination credibility, thanks to undeterred and highly motivated coterie of cartels at KNEC, and partly in the ministry in question. The CS, together with other stakeholders who really made the entire exercise triumphant earns my unsolicited  accolades. Bravo to you all, including the 2016 candidates who passed with flying colours!

Going by the recently released KCPE results,it's crystal clear that 83.93 percent of those who successfully sat for KCPE exams this year will find places in form one. This is stupendously splendid. Am sure the remaining 16% will join youth polytechnics and other relevant training institutions. Who qualifies for praises here? Teachers of Kenya who substantially contributed to the academic success of these candidates.

However, I have a big issue with the criteria used to select the academic giants who are destined for national secondary schools. In his recent announcement during the launching of form one selection process, the CS categorically said that all candidates who scooped 400 marks and above will join any of the 103 national secondary schools available in the country. To be precise, this is 0.62% of the total number of candidates [942021] who successfully wrote their exams this year.

I diligently and painstakingly searched in the relevant websites for the number of candidates from public schools who managed to score the highly coveted 400 and above marks soon after the official launch of the form selection exercise, but to no avail. My concerted efforts bore no fruits! This left me down in the dumps. Hey! Wait a bit. I didn't give up my mission. I went ahead to sample out from one of the zones in my home District. The zone in question has 26 schools,both private and public. You see,the entire district doesn't fall under the category of hardship areas, like Turkana, Baringo, Marsabit, name it.

Guess what? I was utterly flummoxed and astonished to learn that only two candidates scored above 400 marks both of whom are from private schools! Meaning in that zone, and I imagine this is a true picture of many other zones in the entire country, zero point something percent of the candidates if any, from public schools will get the national secondary schools slots.

This is grotesque, in the profound meaning of this word. Let me put these stubborn facts bare, at least for the likes of Dr Matiang'i to see and mull over them, perhaps in future. Well, of the 0.6% candidates who secured places in the national secondary schools, roughly 99% come from private schools or studied at private schools but in public schools. Thus what message is the CS putting out there, especially for parents whose children attend public schools? There is something screaming deafeningly for urgent attention here.

Unless the CS has entertained ignorance and absurdities of late, I am cock-sure he's aware of the avalanche challenges public school-going learners face routinely. Yes, these challenges ranges from acute shortage of teachers, poor or lack of proper modern learning facilities, to perennial teachers' strikes witnessed in public schools.

In May 2014, the then Education CS, Prof. Jacob Kaimenyi, who earned a name for his 'generous' issuance of hollow threats to teachers, recognised that the learners to teacher ratio at both primary and public schools since the inception of free primary education is actually worrying. One measure of assessing progress towards education for all, the CS said, is pupil to teacher ratio. As predicted, the CS said that due to financial constrains, the government has been unable to meet the international standards. For instance, in 2007 the ratio of teacher to pupil in Kenyan primary schools was 1:44. In 2010 it increased to 1:45,against the target of 1:42. Mind you, some schools are having as high as 1:85!And Dr Fred knows this pretty well. He has his job cut out for him,hasn't he?

What became of the quota system that triggered mass exodus from private schools, drove the stakeholders of the private schools up the walls, and left the pupils and parents of public schools floating on air? That was where and when Prof Jacob I enthusiastically piled praises upon praises on him. He scored, I think, very close to your marks that you earned over the management of the recent national exams.

This system favoured public schools because the then CS understood the challenges these learners from public learning institutions are confronted with. In fact my candidates who scored 360 marks and above secured a places at national secondary schools. Which, in my view, was excellent of him, Mr Kaimenyi. With this system, many pupils, estimated at say 49 % of the total number of candidates enrolled to national secondary schools were from public schools and 51% private, as widely opposed to what Mr Matiang'i has done.

No, I don't reprimand me for getting my claws into Matiang'i's flesh. Prof. Kaimenyi was not faultless too in his formula of selection. It is a fact, even some infinitesimal percentage of candidates who scored 400 and above missed from private schools missed national school slots. But that error too small to 'overturn' perceptions.

As things stand now, the selection system used this year is a huge disappointment, and by extension marginalising. There are yawning gaps in the system. It largely favoured private schools! Mr Matiang'i must know that a genius in public school, thanks to the learning conditions and challenges he/she faces there, is capable of scoring between 380s and 390s. I am certain the CS fathoms this, but he is questionably turning a blind eye to this reality.

By confidently announcing before the rolling cameras while deservedly basking in the glory of praises over his ace management of the national exams that exorcised the ghosts of irregularities completely, that only 400 and above materials will get slot in national schools [knowing at the back of his mind that none will sneak from public schools], the CS has simply made big mistake.

Truth be told. The children of the have-nots learn in public schools; while those of the haves study in private institutions. Are you smelling a decayed rat here? Maybe the soft-speaking CS is serving to water the plants of the status quo! This discriminating system of selection should not continue unchallenged! Debates on this glaring issue should begin now, soon or never!

Folks, you can praise Dr Fred Matiang'i to the skies, but do not forget his blunders. Parents and other stakeholders of public school are whining and lamenting the system of selecting top performers. They feel discriminated against.

Kipchumba is a staff writer/columnist at the Kenya Free Press

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