For more than a decade, public schools have grappled with severe staff shortages arising from a freeze on teacher recruitment that was intended to reduce the high public sector wage bill.
Accordingly, the government resorted to replacing only those who retired, left the service or died, which averaged 5,000 annually.
During the period, schools expanded and enrolment soared. Whereas there were about 7.5 million children enrolled in primary schools 10 years ago, the number has since risen to about 10 million but the number of teachers remained constant. A similar growth rate was also experienced in secondary schools where enrolment exceeds two million compared to just a million a decade ago.
A ministerial task force on secondary education school fees published a report in 2014, which indicated that due to the freeze on teacher employment, school boards were forced to hire their own and that cadre of teachers constituted 37 per cent of staff in public secondary schools.
The import is that such teachers have to be paid by parents and thus contribute to high fees, locking out children from poor families.
This background provides the justification for change of strategy — lifting the ban on teacher recruitment.
Now, the Education ministry has announced plans to employ more teachers to ease the shortage. It proposes to employ at least 12,000 teachers annually for the next four years — about 50,000 over the period. This is a good start, given the new developments in the education sector, such as the expansion of Form One admission.
Nevertheless, the figure is still far below the actual requirement. Conservative estimates put the current teacher shortage at about 70,000 and it is bound to rise markedly in the next few years, as the drive to send all children to school intensifies. Thus, while acknowledging this positive development, the government must think strategically on how to close the teacher shortage gap.
Establishing new small schools that end up scattering resources must stop and teachers in service must be deployed proportionately to eliminate imbalances.