Performance contracts for teachers? Duh!

Monday January 11 2016

Busy Bee Academy in Mombasa congratulate Natalie Muthoni Gitari from who scored 435 marks in the 2015 KCPE. Why should the TSC insist on rolling out performance contracts when, clearly, they are doomed to fail? PHOTO | KEVIN ODIT

Busy Bee Academy in Mombasa congratulate Natalie Muthoni Gitari from who scored 435 marks in the 2015 KCPE. Why should the TSC insist on rolling out performance contracts when, clearly, they are doomed to fail? PHOTO | KEVIN ODIT 

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On December 30, close to a million students received their KCPE examination results. The results will be used to place students in high school, but there is another potential use of the results lurking in the future: ranking teachers.

An insidious suggestion continues to circle the drain: Performance contracts for teachers.

The Nyanza branch of KNUT last week warned its members against signing performance contracts, which the TSC seems determined to push through. Performance contracts in education don’t work.

The Organisation for Economic  Co-operation and Development reports that teacher performance contracts in member countries have failed to improve education standards. A report from 200 public schools in New York says that contracts do not work, and that  in larger schools, they reduce  student performance. Studies from Portugal say they do not lift education standards or motivate teachers. Several reports from a number of American states all say the same thing: they do not work. This is an idea that has been tested to the extreme globally and has failed.

So why would TSC insist on rolling them out locally when, clearly, they do not work?

I think I understand the dark logic behind this ridiculous idea.

Teachers are the most expensive item on the budget. We spend more on them than anything else. It is also thought that teachers are lazy because Uwezo keeps re-releasing the same report each year telling us our children are innumerate and illiterate. So we should blame the teachers; they must be incompetent and lazy.

Our children are brilliant, after all. How else can we spend so much money on education and get so little?

Anything that can be used to shaft the teaching profession further must be implemented. Teachers must be demonised and their skills rubbished. Insisting on performance contracts questions their dedication and helps get the public on the side of TSC. Why shouldn’t a teacher want to be assessed on performance? “What do they have to hide?” the public will ask.


Remember that conditions in public schools continue to deteriorate.

Class sizes keep on increasing, funding commitment is not linked to increasing enrolment numbers, teacher workload has increased and the school textbooks programme is underfunded partly because textbook publishers are a greedy lot. Teachers’ pay rise lags behind inflation.

Teachers are constantly asked to do more with less.

Students, on average, spend more time at home than school, and their home life often affects their performance in school. A teacher cannot, for example, be expected to help a child who has no food to eat at home to concentrate in class.

A performance contract is an attempt to rationalise the injustices teachers face. The contracts are an attempt to demonise the profession, to show them as failing and thus be used to deny improvements to their employment conditions.

The government is trying to set up teachers and show them off as a feckless lot. They need data to back up their prejudice. Failure of the education system will then be  placed squarely on the shoulders of teachers. Why is this school just average in performance when the one across the road is outstanding?

Once performance contracts come into play, whenever teachers demand salary increments, the Ministry of Education will produce data showing how poorly teachers are performing. Our media love tables and charts and you will have counties ranked on the basis of how lazy their teachers are on a front page.

Sufficiency is a precondition for performance. The government must ensure that our schools are well staffed and properly provided for before beginning to measure teacher performance.

I am highly sceptical of the way Parliament, which is not known for its pedagogic expertise, could conspire with TSC to set targets for teachers. How is it that MPs insist on TSC implementing performance contracts for teachers when there are none for Parliament?

The contracts being suggested by TSC will initially measure completion of the syllabus. It is easy to see how this will change. What better way for a teacher to show that he has completed the syllabus than for his pupils to pass exams? The final destination of performance contracts is the assessment of students’ grades.

Grades are often a representation of affluence, the amount of money your parents can sink into your schooling.  They have nothing to do with teaching quality or ability.

It is both silly and dangerous to allow students’ performance to affect teachers’ pay. Hothousing and “teaching to the test” will ensue under performance contracts. Finally, cheating will flourish. If your pay depends on your chargés ticking the right box, why not tell them the answer? Help them and help yourself. If you fall too far behind, you might even be fired. Better skip the fluffy syllabus, distill it and teach the students the test, and only that.

Performance contracts will be an undeniable incentive to cheat. In Atlanta, US, performance-related contracts led to teachers leaking exams to their students.


If you use numbers to measure standards, workers will conspire to get you data that tells you that the system is working to protect their jobs.

Also, consider the cost of surveillance. The proposals will add yet another level of bureaucracy to TSC. School heads will be forced to constantly monitor and assess their teachers. TSC will be forced to interpret and analyse assessments from across the country using county and district directors. Finally, there will be a national set of monitors to tell you how teachers are doing in relation to each other.

TSC should be spending money on teachers because our teacher:pupil ratio is unacceptable. The time that will be wasted by teachers filling paper work just to prove they are working is immense.

Teachers should be teaching, not filling out forms to prove to their bosses that they are working.

Competition is likely to destroy the teaching network. If your pay is pegged to performance, which is then compared to your peers’, you are less likely to work in tandem. Collaboration among schools implies a shared goal: that you all want the best for your students. Performance contracts will destroy this.

Teachers will squabble for the best students, refuse to go teach in deprived areas because of the financial implications and finally, they will turn on each other. When some teachers get pay rises or bonuses based on the fake standards of merit TSC is trying to advance, teachers are less likely to support nationwide strikes.

Performance contracts will also help kill the unions since teachers will be assessed individually.

It is only when teachers work together that  standards will improve. Balkanising teachers in competing units, forcing them on a treadmill for comparison will only worsen education.

Performance contracts, which have failed the world over, will also fail in Kenya. Teachers and parents should unite in rejecting them.



The silver lining in North Korea’s mushroom cloud

THE NEWS THAT North Korea had tested a hydrogen bomb was a bad way to start the New Year. H-bombs have several hundred times more bang than ordinary nuclear bombs. The full extent of their damage can only be estimated because no such weapon has been used on a civilian population.

In all this there was a sliver of good news. The newsreader announcing the horrible news was, interestingly, an old, and dare I say fat, woman. You don’t see them presenting news nowadays.

North Korea is a horrid place. A dead man is Eternal President, his grandson, who we are told does not defecate, is the leader, and the people are stunted due to malnutrition. The country is stuck in the mid-20th century with Stalinist leader cults, goose-stepping soldiers, total government control of information and a love of things that go “Bang!”

No one really wants to help the country. The cost of integrating a half-dead nation of hermetic people is trillions of dollars and at least two wasted generations. You also risk getting nuked while marching in. The world would rather the mad show continued because ending it would be so costly.

However, Korea being stuck in the 1950s culturally has its advantages. The cult of youth has not taken hold – old women can appear on TV.

Television is a visual medium and high-definition television is particularly unkind on the signs of age. Even the BBC, the yardstick of all media houses, was last year accused by its former employees of discriminating against older women.

It seems paradoxical ­– good-looking young women on TV can command a premium for appearing on the screen but then when their “competitive advantage” is sloughed off with age, they complain that it is not fair.

Men can at least continue working as they grey while women find an altogether more hostile audience.

The cult of the young is primarily driven by competitive sport, an activity that can only be performed when one is young. Popular culture is a young person’s game.  Our sports and cultural heroes are young, surprisingly, even in countries where the population is greying.

The silver lining in the mushroom cloud for North Korea is that on TV they are still willing to listen to the message without looking at the messenger and asking why she doesn’t have a form-hugging dress.




Take it easy Joho, you will retain your seat next year 

I WAS IN Mombasa County recently and was impressed by all the infrastructure projects going on. The county government is clearly working.

However, every single project I came across served as an election billboard. Governor Hassan Ali Joho beams down alongside every project under the County Government of Mombasa sign. Some of his portraits are even larger than the photo of the projects in question. The governor never lets you forget who to thank for the project.

County governments were meant to be a collegiate effort, which is why there is a county executive. However, you cannot tell in Mombasa; the governor’s face is on road and sewerage projects. What is the point of having a county executive in charge of infrastructure or roads if the governor claims  all the success? In Kisauni and Nyali constituencies, I counted six mugshots of Mr Joho on ongoing projects.

Other governors are not as overbearing or insecure about their success. Joho need not worry.  Barring an act of God, he has the 2017 gubernatorial election in the bag. There is no need to put his face on every project.