Today, Kenya joins other nations in marking World Teachers Day, set aside to celebrate the teaching profession and reflect on the achievements made and challenges encountered.
This year’s event, themed “Young Teachers: The future of the Profession”, also seeks to “address some of the issues central for attracting and keeping the brightest minds and young talents in the profession,” according to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (Unesco).
For many, the teaching profession is a very stressful path, characterised by a heavy workload, poor pay, labour strikes and a society that has a somewhat ‘unfair’ moon-shot thinking as to how much a teacher can do.
Has this situation made today’s youth, more ‘liberal’ than the young people of yesteryears, shun teaching and instead opt for jobs that appear “cool and current”?
“There is a misconception that it is only TSC which employs people with a Bachelor of Education. However, for areas such as humanitarian agencies, and platforms that provide training, teaching is an added advantage,” says Dr Ciriaka Gitonga.
Edwin Mutugi Ireri, 29, a teacher at Moi High School Mbiruri in Embu County, began teaching in 2015.
“I joined this profession because it is a call to serve and also my passion. This is one of the few careers that give you a chance to make a difference in the lives of as many learners as possible, and help them in not only their academics, but also in nurturing their talents,” he says.
While this might sound like a cliché response, Newsplex sought to understand more about the source of this passion.
“My mother is a teacher. When I was a young boy, I’d see how she loved the job. She’d wake up very early in the morning, prepare us to go to school and I’d hear her talk nice things about her pupils and how they’re doing well in school. She really contributed to me loving it,” he says.
He was determined enough to emulate his mum, and so after high school, he joined Kenyatta University and pursued a Bachelor of Education (Science), specialising in mathematics and physics, despite having a KCSE grade that could have won him a place in other fields.
Edwin is among the 80,255 graduate teachers out of the 97,812 teachers employed by the Teachers Service Commission (TSC) in public secondary schools and teacher training colleges in 2018, according to the Economic Survey 2019.
While his good KCSE grades won him the opportunity to study the career of his choice at university, many passionate young Kenyans are locked out by entry cut-off grades, which are C+ for degree and diploma and C for a certificate course, alongside other mandatory scores in certain subjects. The recent conversion of some diploma teaching colleges to universities has also further limited the opportunities available to pursue teaching as a career, according to Dr Ciriaka Gitonga, an educationist and the dean of the School of Education at the University of Embu. Data from the Economic Survey confirms that indeed there has been a 39 percent decline in intake at diploma teacher training colleges, from 1,187 students in 2014 to 722 last year.
Dr Gitonga says controlling access to such institutions is a technical policy decision aimed at improving quality.
The government also intends to abolish primary teacher education (P1) certificate courses, leaving diploma degrees as the only way into the profession. There are currently 109,954 P1 teachers in public primary schools, accounting for more than half of all primary school teachers.
“The levels of entry were so low, but the requirements for who is supposed to be a Kenyan teacher in the 21st century have gone up. We need TSC employing more highly skilled teachers in primary schools, especially since it is at the foundation level. That is how we can reach developed countries in improving the quality of education at that level,” says Dr Gitonga, who agrees with the plan.
But these could also pose a challenge for the largest public-sector workforce, already bearing the pains of a high teacher-to-pupil ratio and a huge teacher shortage. According to the 2014 Basic Education Statistical Booklet by the Ministry of Education, the TSC teacher-pupil ratio in primary schools stood at 1:42, slightly higher than the global standard of 1:40. Secondary schools had a ratio of 1:30, which could have increased since the policy on 100 percent transition into secondary school came into effect this year.
The hesitance of TSC to recruit new teachers leaves the burden of the teacher-pupil imbalance on the shoulders of schools and teachers. Some schools have had to set aside part of their resources, which would otherwise be used to purchase books and other learning materials, to hire teachers. A third of teachers working in public secondary schools were employed by the schools’ boards of management (BoM), according to the statistical booklet. Dr Gitonga says that a similar proportion of their students get hired by BoMs before they even graduate. TSC estimates the teacher shortage to be 99,081 in 2019, with primary and secondary schools lacking 37,410 and 61,671 teachers respectively.
On completing university and arriving at Moi High School, Edwin found a very welcoming team, who mentored him on what is expected in the job. This, he says, guarded him from any shocks or disappointments, highlighting the importance of having a strong support system for a new and young teacher.
Stressing on the joys of the job, he happily recalls watching one of his students participating at the IAAF World U-18 championships held at Kasarani in 2017, saying that it is always a great joy for a teacher when students excel.
Edwin plans to be a teacher until he can no longer teach.
Why the bad reputation?
Dr Gitonga argues that for a long time, there was a lot of emphasis by career counsellors and parents to choose certain careers as if they were the only ones available, at the disadvantage of the students. However, things are shifting. In the School of Education, where she works, they have already received 150 students applying to transfer from other programmes to education, largely because of the promise of employment.
“There is a misconception that it is only TSC which employs people with a Bachelor of Education. However, for areas such as humanitarian agencies, and platforms that provide training, teaching is an added advantage,” she adds.
Another group of 18 who had taken Bachelor of Science courses are now enrolling for a post-graduate diploma in education at the university. These, she says, are small steps the profession is taking in regaining its position as a noble field and as a preferred career choice.
But it also appears that many students are choosing to pursue education discreetly, largely because it is still held in low esteem and not as lucrative.
“Students in Form Two come and I ask them, ‘How many of you will do a bachelor or diploma in education?’ and none of them raise their hands. I think one of the reasons is we have failed to protect the profession, therefore allowing politicians, unionists and others who have nothing to do with education to speak about the field as if they are the experts.
Edwin’s advice for young people is to never join any career for money, a point echoed by Dr Gitonga.
“Teachers are portrayed as if they are the poorest. But one of the ways we can encourage young people is by letting them know that if you really want to change the world, become a teacher. Teaching is so central in social transformation,” she concludes.
The TSC collective bargaining agreement (CBA) with teachers’ unions for 2017-2021 suggests that teachers’ salaries still remain a thorny issue. The pay range for the lowest paid teacher in the CBA Sh21,756 – Sh27,195, way below the globally recommended 3.5 times the country’s gross domestic product per capita (Sh54,336).