Allow me to start by telling you a short story. One day, about six years ago, I bought a copy of a newspaper published in one of the East African countries and sat down to read. As I read a story about the East African Community, a feeling of familiarity crept up on me. Something was telling me that I had read this before.
By the time I got to the third paragraph it was obvious that I was reading something that I had written and someone else had plagiarised. I raised an issue with the plagiarising writer and the publication and we even agreed on how I was to be compensated for the damage caused.
I bring this all up because I am still wondering how Zimbabwe’s leader, Robert Mugabe read through a whole speech without noticing that he had read it before. Makes you wonder how many other things he fails to notice.
Before the jokes from Harare and the coup in Ouagadougou crossed my mind, I was thinking a lot about the standoff between teachers and the government in Kenya.
For a while now Kenyan teachers have been breathing hot and cold regarding their pay. A court decision came in to further strengthen their pleas that have since taken on more of an annual ritual.
This time the teachers dug in their heels while the government also kept on insisting that there was no money to pay teachers but also that if they paid the teachers then other civil servants would also demand for a salary increase. The government also argued that paying teachers would require increasing taxes something that was clearly aimed at getting the public on the government side. No one wants to pay taxes leave alone increased taxes.
But after three weeks of no teaching in public schools, the government of Kenya seems to have blinked first. On Friday the government ordered the closure of all public and private schools starting on Monday next week. One question you and I may not be able to answer at this point is: Why private schools have been ordered closed yet their teachers were not on strike and some do not even follow the Kenyan system but the British one?
The situation in Kenya got me thinking about the general attitude governments and the public in general have towards teachers and education. It is not rare to hear of the glowing tales about teachers back in the day when they commanded a lot more respect and their welfare was quite good.
But times have changed and it appears that we have gradually pushed the teacher down the drain that we do not even see why they deserve a pay increase. Teacher strikes are no longer shocking at all in this region. When they ask for a little more pay, we tell them we do not have money and yet MPs, for example in Kenya and Uganda, can increase their salaries wantonly and a lot more goes to waste through corruption or just wasteful spending.
In other words the teachers do not matter that much anymore partly because they do not even teach the children of the decision makers.
Our education is in a huge dilemma because we are now stuck with not just poor teachers, but bad ones as well.
The poor pay that teachers endure means that the profession attracts not the best performers but those with less viable options. The best teachers end up in private schools and the public schools have to make do with what’s left.
In other words, we are sending our children to be taught by unmotivated teachers who did not even want to be teachers in the first place. Then we complain about the dropping standards of education and we suggest strange solutions as if there were not there before. It is now fashionable to talk about technical and vocational skills as if technical and vocational skills are some kind of new invention. We had them before what changed is the quality of graduates.
How do we really hope to prosper when poor performers are what our teacher training colleges attract and low salaries await them when they start the real work?
There is simply no way out of fixing our education systems without improving the quality of teachers we recruit and what we pay them. I think we took a wrong turn somewhere and we need to get back on track before it is too late.