BY DAVID WANJALA There has been calmness in the education sector ever since the level headed, but passionate Dr Fred Matiang’i was transferred to the docket from ICT in November last year to replace the combative and, sometimes cocky, Prof Jacob Kaimenyi who had fallen out of favour with all sector stakeholders. Even the abrasive Kenya National Union of Teachers (Knut), which had not agreed with any policy or directive for the entire period of Prof Kaimenyi’s three-year term, have exuded confidence and hope that it may be turn around period for the crucial sector in any society’s economy. True, teachers have huge, historical issues relating to industrial relations with their employer, Teachers Service Commission (TSC), and have not yet withdrawn their leveraging card, industrial action, from the negotiation’s table,. One hopes that the new Cabinet Secretary (CS) will move with speed to address burning issues in the sector within this grace period that teachers’ unions including the Kenya Union of Post Primary Education Teachers (KUPPET) have extended the olive branch. So far so good. Dr Matiang’i has not disappointed in his first quarter in office. He has brought to the fore mundane but critical issues like school inspections that never featured anywhere in his predecessor’s time. The impromptu school visits the minister carries out across the country, for instance, have dug out, once again, the old vice in public schools of teacher absenteeism and it is going to play a critical role in implementing and enforcing the desirable performance contracting that the teachers’ unions have so far vehemently resisted. It has also exhumed the issue of financial impropriety especially in this era of free primary education that has seen the Government inject huge amounts of money into the education system to the discretion of head teachers and management boards. Luckily, Dr Matiang’i is so passionate about the inspections that he believes that being asked to stop the visits as teachers’ unions have is “like asking me not to go to Jogoo House” (read not to report to work). One only hopes that he can streamline school inspectorate operations like it happened during and just after the colonial era before successful independence governments ruined the education sector. It does not have to be the CS visiting the schools. He needs to grow and nurture a strong inspectorate system at the county level, which is the only way he can bring back sanity in schools in terms of reining in teacher absenteeism, drunkenness, and lack of integrity in financial management. The CS has also addressed himself strongly on issues of massive unplanned university expansions that have seen sprouting of satellite campuses, some offering courses that are not even approved. His predecessor never gave attention to some of these issues even as they threatened to bring down the sector. The most reassuring aspects about Dr Matiang’i’s tenure at the helm of education, however, are his passion, grasp of issues education and willingness to consult widely. At a round table breakfast meeting with the journalism fraternity at Panafric Hotel, Nairobi mid last month, the CS delved deeper into the merits of the ongoing curriculum review that has come after 15 years. Education, the CS said, has to respond to the dynamic needs of the world we leave in. “Measure the content of the curriculum to the 21st Century in which the workplace skills have since changed,” he said and decried the fact that only a third of the entire lot of the 2015 Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education (KCSE) candidates attained the requisite university entry point of mean grade C+ and above. He also decried the fact that a whooping 78% of the country’s university enrolment is in Arts and Social Sciences with only 22% enrolling in the crucial Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM), saying 80% take STEM and only 20% do take Arts and Social Sciences in the First World. “We cannot actualise the Vision 2030 with these percentages in our university enrolment,” he said, adding that to retain our regional competitive edge of highly educated population, we have to invest critically in the education sector with relevant options (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) receiving proper attention. This, he said, is critical, as it will go a long way to grow Africa’s capacities to harness and explore the natural resources being discovered on the Continent. Underlying this calmness and seeming good progress, however, is a simmering plethora of critical issues in the sector that unless identified and nipped in the bud, however hard he works, Dr Matiang’i will hardly succeed in steer ingthe sector into a commandeering position he so desires in the race to achieve Vision 2030. Most of the issues are tackled in subsequent discourse in this coverage but critical among them are as follows; Teachers’ right to union representation Right under his nose, and in a scheme that was intelligently hatched by his predecessor and implemented by the TSC, government is gradually but steadily killing teachers’ union movement by instructing the teachers’ employer not to collect membership fees on behalf of the unions. With this, Knut and KUPPET’s flames are slowly flickering out. It was Prof. Kaimenyi’s style of dealing with the unions’ rightful demand for and legally earned salary increment. It is in the public domain how the last teachers’ pay rise demand that played out on the streets and in the courts of law left an egg on the face of Government. However, the right of a worker to join other workers and freely associate in a union is recognised internationally as a fundamental human right. Our own Constitution prominently recognises this right. Article 41 of the Constitution addresses the issues in explicit terms: 41(1) says every person has the right to fair labour practices and 41(2)(c) says every worker has the right to form, join or participate in the activities and programmes of a trade union, and (d), to go on a strike. Article 36(1) says, every person has the right to freedom of association, which includes the right to form, join or participate in the activities of an association and Article 37 confers on an individual the right to “peaceably and unarmed, to assemble, to demonstrate, to picket, and to present petitions to public authorities. Article 24 (1) wraps it up; A right or fundamental freedom in the Bill of Rights shall not be limited except by law, and then only to the extent that the limitation is reasonable and justifiable in an open and democratic society based on human dignity, equality and freedom, taking into account all relevant factors … Unions play critical roles in employee employer relations; they increase co-operation and wellbeing among workers; secure facilities for workers; establish contacts between workers and employers; safeguard the interests of the workers; and provide labour welfare. For the CS to move the education sector where he wants it to be, he will need the existence of strong teacher unions. His consultative style and approach to education issues will thrive with an active and strong teacher union movement. He cannot sit on his laurels on this issue and pledge to take the education sector to the next level, not even with a super curriculum. Strangulation of tertiary level education The decade-long back and forth on whether higher learning education institutions should offer certificate and diploma courses is suspect and smacks of massive vested interests by the Kenya’s high and mighty. An association of technical training colleges is currently in court in a long drawn battle whose end does not seem nigh to stop Universities from offering mid-level courses. When a student scores a mean grade of C and below, what he or she mostly needs is a skill. Higher education, that the universities should be well equipped and grounded to offer should only come for such a person in terms of advancement should she or he perform exemplarily in his or her mid-level course. A person with a D- mean grade should never move near a university, not unless he or she is passing by to see a relation. This is for the simple reason that an institution of higher learning like a university is not well equipped to shape and prepare such an individual for the challenges lying ahead. This responsibility should be left to tertiary level colleges. More telling is also the fact that there is hardly any case of exam failures in the university certificate and diploma courses. Because of the feel good therapy associated with being in the university, students, with support of the parents, prefer taking their certificate and diploma courses from universities oblivious of the fact that they would rather do well taking the same at a tertiary level college, be it public or private. This has led to massive exodus of students from the colleges and the hemorrhage, as we speak, is chocking and strangling midlevel colleges out of town with many closing shop. It is for the same reason that a while ago, many technical colleges including The Kenya Polytechnic and Mombasa Polytechnic metamorphosed into universities. University of Nairobi, School of Journalism for instance, has offered BA in Journalism for many years with four options; Broadcast Journalism, Print Journalism, Development Communication and Public Relations. However, for the technical option of Broadcast Journalism that involves audio and visual studio operations, the School still has had to liaise with the Kenya Institute of Mass Communication (KIMC) both for the equipment and tutors. It goes without saying that broadcast students who excelled at the School are those who had taken their diplomas from KIMC and elsewhere and came to the School of Journalism to advance. Though the issue of whether universities should offer certificate and diploma courses is in court, Dr Matiang’i, through research involving all stakeholders should came up with a guiding policy on the same. The elephant in the room “Brian Kamau scored a D- in Form Three third term. And when the scores of the class were ranked to produce KCSE index numbers, he was position 210 out of 289. But when the Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education (KCSE) results were released on Thursday, Brian’s mean score was a straight A with 83-points. He posted plain As in all the nine subjects he attempted, except an A- in Kiswahili…” goes a story in the Daily Nation titled, From D- to a straight A, the power of a mother’s prayer, that was featured a few days after the release of the 2015 KCSE results. The one-year long extreme-to-extreme leap was attributed to the grace of God. I am told of a family where a father quietly, lest he brews a storm, doubts the A- KCSE results of his son. He has hatched a plan to guide him to choose a career course in which his abilities, especially his passion in IT, can still suffice. He says the best his son could score is a C-. His fears, which are real and should worry any parent with integrity is, what if he was admitted into a university for a critical course like medicine? Exam cheating, especially in KCSE has dogged Kenya’s education sector for decades now with every year registering more cases than the previous one. Over the years, students, in a most disenfranchising of actions, have been condemned unheard by exam cancellation, ruining, in some cases lives of many, others even innocent. The major culprits, in a typical example of man-eat-man society that Kenya has become, the Kenya National Exam Council (KNEC), mandated with the safety of exams and therefore where the leakage emanates, go scot-free. For the first time ever, in the history of KNEC, a thorough audit has been done out of which the KNEC board was dissolved and prosecutions of those baring the greatest responsibility are on the way. This is a step in the right direction and we laud the minister for the bold, unprecedented move.