In this series in the Sunday Nation we invite readers to send questions to select public figures. Answers will be published in the next print and online editions. This week Education CS Fred Matiang’i responds to your questions
You have banned activities such as annual general meetings, visiting and prayer days in schools in the third term in a bid to end cheating in national examinations. Considering there are more day schools than boarding schools in Kenya, how is your directive going to forestall cheating when students in day schools are in contact with parents and the outside world?
Samuel Wasonga, Mombasa
The re-organisation of the school calendar for the third term was intended to create an activity-free time focused on preparing candidates for examinations. It was also intended to reduce the social pressure on candidates through unnecessary interactions at huge prayer rallies and other social events that were often misused in the past to unduly hassle the candidate classes or even cause parents to unnecessarily deploy resources that could be best utilised elsewhere.
These affected both boarding and day students. Please reach out to the full statement and explanation we issued at that time to have a full understanding of the background to this decision.
I am grateful that the third term has been largely peaceful and most teachers, especially the principals, are happy that they have had quality time to focus on revisions and preparing their candidates for the national examinations starting in a week’s time.
Congratulations for the good work you are doing to bring back sanity in the education sector. What measures have you put in place to ensure KCSE and KCPE exams are not leaked as has happened in the past?
At the beginning of the year, I announced measures meant to restore the credibility of our national examinations. These started with the reconstitution of the Kenya National Examinations Council and later a reorganisation of the school terms.
There are many other measures we have taken but I prefer not to make them public as this will be tantamount to putting the cart before the horse. Later this week, we will brief the public on all the plans we have put in place for the examinations season.
We remain committed to delivering clean exams this year and hope that all stakeholders will collaborate with us to achieve this goal.
Sir, why did you stop the mock exams in Siaya County yet other counties were doing similar exams?
Fredrick Opondo, Siaya
I did not ban mock exams for Siaya County alone. Mocks were banned in 2008. Elsewhere in this newspaper, you can read the directives that the ministry has issued regarding this matter.
Can you please tell us why and what’s wrong with county evaluation tests? Is it an offence for a sponsor’s picture to appear on a paper?
Walter Mraga, Siaya
I think we should all be honest. We cannot misuse our children to achieve political ends. Public education environments should be objective, neutral and totally free of any partisan influences and materials.
All our national education policies and guidelines point out to this. Can you imagine the chaos and anarchy we will subject our public school system to when we turn them into arenas of political contestation?
The Kenya Union of Post Primary Education Teachers and Knut have called on the government to explore all means possible to avert industrial action over proposed new salaries. What is your Plan B on supervision and marking of exams in case a collective bargaining agreement is not reached?
Mwalimu Bathy Kombo, Mt Elgon
Issues of salaries for teachers are the domain of the TSC, which is an independent commission. I am very proud of my TSC colleagues and know they are on top of things as far as this matter is concerned.
I respect their mandate and would not like to make sideline comments on the same.
Why should we have schools ranking back but then abolish joint mocks?
Mark Odongo Obiero, JKUAT Juja
As you may be aware, MPs in the National Assembly passed a Bill providing for the ranking of schools in national examinations. The President signed it into law. The new law, however, provides that we should conduct a research and consultatively develop criteria and bases upon which any ranking of schools can be done.
Certainly it anticipates that ranking will not be based on examination results per se. The law was just enacted a month ago.
We are in the process of constituting a team to conduct the necessary research, collect the necessary material and plan the consultative framework upon which we shall design the ranking.
Quite frankly, it will take time before we can have a scientifically developed and accepted basis of ranking. Besides, we are in the process of reforming our curriculum which will likely do away with summative evaluation in favour of continuous assessment. Notwithstanding the enactment of the law, the ranking issue is still in the air.
What is your ministry doing to ensure equality for all schools, considering that some do not have facilities such as science labs yet they are supposed to compete in national exams?
Peter Ngetich, Nandi County
All constituencies in Kenya receive the National Government Constituencies Development Funds, which, according to the new law, should be spent only on education and security.
It is expected that with such generous funding, education facilities across the country should be developed to comparative levels of effective learning environments.
Our capitation from the ministry is learner-based; every child in the public schools gets the same amount of money across the country.
At the ministry level, we have also been providing infrastructural development funds for schools. These may not be adequate but the very needy schools have been benefitting.
Teachers have been ordered to remain in school after closing date. What is the motive behind this?
Murithi Ramires, Maua
I think my colleagues at the Teachers Service Commission (TSC) have clarified this issue through the TSC County Directors. I have to respect the mandate of the TSC as the employer and manager of the teachers. I will reach out to the Chief Executive Officer to clarify this further to the public before end of the week.
You said that teachers and lower classes students should not be in the school compound during exams yet the latest circular from TSC directs teachers to be in school. Which is which? Secondly, you said head teachers will be the ones to collect exam papers and return them to designated centres. The Kenya National Union of Teachers has told head teachers no to pick exam papers. Does it mean you make decisions without consulting education stake holders?
Mwalimu Bathy Kombo, Mt Elgon
As far as I know, I have been one of the most consultative leaders of our time. I have never implemented any decision before lengthy and solid consultations and concurrence with stakeholders.
I have consulted very closely with the leadership of both primary and secondary school head teachers and to the best of my knowledge, they have publicly said they will collect examinations and are happy to ensure their students have ample time to prepare and sit the examinations.
At any rate, individual head teachers have individual contracts with their employer, TSC, and of course with Knec. I strongly prefer that our children are allowed the most peaceful time ever to do their examinations without any anxiety.
All my colleagues in the ministry, TSC and Knec are committed to this. I urge all the other stakeholders to think more about our children and their future than anything else.
Congratulations for the radical changes you have introduced in the ministry. However, the ratio of books to child has never been met since inception of both free primary and secondary education in 2002 due to frequent change in the syllabus. Please comment.
Jeff Chepkwony, Sigor Chepalungu
This is a problem I have been confronting since I stepped into Jogoo House. I know we have achieved a 1:1 ratio in some subjects, in some schools. However, we have challenges in some subjects in most of the schools.
I am inflexibly committed to dealing with this issue decisively because availability of instructional materials like books is a major factor in the learning and overall performance of our children.
It is why I am determined to work with sector players to find a formidable way of book distribution that ensures we have value for money. Whatever it takes, we must strive to achieve a 1:1 book-pupil ratio across the country by 2018.
The latest report indicates that most universities are running on negative balances having accumulated a lot of debts. They are also having to deal with political interference; a case in point being the recent incident where politicians wanted to influence the appointment of the Vice Chancellor for Moi University. What measures are you putting in place to bring an end to this?
Patience Kerubo, Kilifi
Universities are supposed to run autonomously of the national government. Individual councils have recruited eminent vice chancellors who must be in charge of their institutions, including their financial health. Of course we do not expect the universities not to be without challenges.
I must, however, add that we are doing everything possible to ensure that the universities remain truly national institutions.
We will shortly publish the new guidelines for the appointment of vice chancellors that will hopefully enhance the institutionalisation and inclusivity of the processes to ensure we deal with past challenges in such appointments.
The establishment of the Universities Funding Board and the new policies we have developed on sharing exchequer resources within the universities sector will go a long way in enhancing the financial stability of our public universities.
There is the laptop project and emergence of Tusome Programme, which are running concurrently but with different objectives. Why isn’t it possible for the government to integrate these programmes so that we save on costs?
Jeff Chepkwony, Sigor Chepalungu
Although these programmes are different, they converge at the same goals. There is absolutely no disharmony in their delivery and, I must say, the programmes have led to outstanding success in improving learning in our schools.
During a recent digital literacy programme inspection conducted in the Kisii region, only a insignificant number of primary schools had complied with standards set for e-readiness. What action will you take against head teachers who misappropriated funds received from the government?
Ongeri Abuga Dominic, Kisii
Any public servant, including head teachers, must understand that public resources should go to what they are planned and intended for. There are consequences for violation and they will sure ensue in such cases as you describe.
Thanks for the good job you are doing. What policies do you have in place to ensure teachers who still go on with tuition during school holidays are dealt with?
Holiday tuition remains banned to allow children to rest during this period. Action will be taken against anyone found to flout this. I know you have heard such language before but I promise, we will strive to ensure we keep our promises to act firmly and decisively where necessary.
How free is Free Primary Education? I ask this because a school in my neighbourhood, St Lwanga Primary School, demands from parents up to Sh8,000 for pupils joining Standard One?
Joseph Kabiru, Nakuru
Can you send me evidence of such payment like a receipt, et cetera, so that I can act on it, please? I also promise to check this out immediately. The bottom line: it is illegal to ask parents to pay such fees.