The Daily Nation’s editorial on December 3 on the entry grade to teachers’ colleges provoked me to analyse three policies of the Teachers Service Commission (TSC) that I consider outlandish and indicate policymakers at the institution need a change of mind.
TSC has had an unusual approach to various issues. The first and most recent is on the current debate on setting and maintaining standards of education and training of people entering the teaching profession. According to Section 237 3(a) of the TSC Act, the commission shall review the standards of education and training of persons entering the teaching service.
Available data indicated the main cause of the current state of education in marginalised areas is lack of adequate, qualified teachers. The situation has been worsened by the exodus of non-local teachers from Garissa, Wajir and Mandera counties due to al-Shabaab attacks.
The notion that the current education situation in northern Kenya can be improved by TSC through the use of non-local teachers is unrealistic because the tutors are not ready to teach in schools there because of security reasons.
Mindful of her responsibility for promoting basic education for all children in accordance with the letter and spirit of the constitution, and the Education Act, Education Cabinet Secretary Amina Mohamed, through affirmative action, lowered college entry grades of primary teachers from C to D+ and those of diploma teachers from C+ to C- in 17 marginalised areas. The aim is to train adequate teachers for marginalised areas.
This sparked a protest from TSC, which wrote a letter to the Attorney-General seeking interpretation of the role of the CS and Kenya National Qualifications Authority in lowering entry grades for teacher training colleges. The advice from the Attorney-General that the Cabinet Secretary has no powers to lower grades has created more confusion.
According to section 66 of the Basic Education Act, it is the responsibility of the Ministry of Education to develop and review the standards of education and training. Ministry performs this role through its agencies including Kenya Institute of Curriculum Development, Directorate of Quality Assurance and Standards, Commission for University Education and Kenya Qualifications Authority.
The TSC should focus on its core mandate of registering, recruiting, promoting, transferring and disciplining teachers. It is naive and unacceptable for a government agency to publicly question the decision of a Cabinet Secretary.
TSC’s argument that lowering college entry grades will undermine the quality of teachers in the country is unsustainable.
There is no empirical evidence demonstrating a link between entry grade and what and how teacher students learn, teacher quality and student learning and educational outcomes.
Research has consistently shown that a student’s college entry grade is not the main factor in later achievement. Key factors include availability of competent qualified and experienced trainers, time spent on teaching and learning, class size, resources and facilities available, behavioural self-control, high learning time, variety of teaching methods, frequent student assessment and feedback and college leadership.
A student becomes a good teacher through coordinated efforts of the lecturer, the principal, quality assurance and standards officers, parents and others who are part of the teacher training college. When a student who scored a low grade is taught by competent lecturers in a college that has adequate physical facilities and learning resources then he/she becomes a competent teacher.
Another concern is duplication of roles. The Ministry of Education has a full-fledged Quality Assurance and Standards Division that is better suited to maintain quality in teacher training colleges. It is a waste of taxpayers’ money for TSC to do work that can best be done by other state agencies. I am not convinced about the ability of the commission to review the standards of education and training of people entering the teaching service.
The second issue is TSC policy on registration of teachers in an era where students who do not meet entry requirements for admission to university are using university access programmes and other routes to pursue higher education. TSC is adamant that a teacher with a diploma or degree in education must have obtained a C+ in the KCSE examination before he or she can be registered as a teacher. It is wrong to peg registration of diploma and degree holders on scores in KCSE.
The criteria for registration should be successful completion of a teacher education programme. This is what is done in other countries. In some countries, candidates aged 25 years and above who have been out of school for three years before their application who pass mature entry examinations are normally admitted to degree programmes.
If the commission’s policy on registration of teachers is outdated, so too is its policy on deployment of primary schoolteachers who have struggled to obtain self-actualisation by getting university degrees. Instead of celebrating the achievement of these teachers, the commission has refused to transfer them to secondary schools or even promote them.
It is evident Ms Mohamed is determined to ensure every child in Kenya receives quality education, but that will be hard if some state agencies do not support her policies.
The commission should know education standards are not only about prior learning achievement. The real issue is not the entry point, but the quality of teaching in schools in marginalised areas of Kenya.
Second, there is an acute shortage of teachers in public secondary schools. TSC should post all teachers with B. Ed and M. Ed to secondary schools to teach the subjects they specialised in at undergraduate level.
Finally, what we need as a teaching profession, now more than ever, are policies based on international best practices and dialogue among key education stakeholders namely teachers, students, parents, education administrators, examiners and curriculum specialists.
The writer is a Professor of Education at Catholic University of Eastern Africa and former Head of Research and Evaluation at Kenya Institute of Education.