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When free education kicked off in Kenya, it was easy to fund because a number of donors were more than willing to support the noble program. As the reality of embezzled funds, and the economic crunch set in, many of the donor nations either withdrew or cut down on the amount they were giving to support the free education program. This forced the government of Kenya to dig deeper into its pockets to fund the costly program. As though this wasn’t enough trouble, the quality of education started downward spiraling.

Quality of education in public schools in Kenya began to be eroded when, after introduction of free primary education, there were mass enrollments leading to a huge disparity between the number of teachers and students. There was an influx into schools, of children who previously had stayed home because their parents couldn’t afford the high cost of education. With the free education, the student population swelled so fast that it was impossible for the number of teachers to keep pace. Therefore, the teacher-pupil ratio in Kenya and other sub-Sahara countries grew to 1:43, the highest in the world according to a UNESCO Education for all Global Monitoring Report for 2012. With one teacher attending to over forty students at a time, it is hard to have that very essential teacher-pupil contact time or even deal with an individual students’ need. It is also quite hard for teachers to give their best since they are few, overstretched and thus spread thin. To solve this problem, many schools employed either untrained teachers, form four leavers who had done fairly well or university students on holiday. Not having trained as teachers, many of these inexperts lack the basic training on instructional methodology to use and the much needed skills necessary to teach early grades and so they can’t prepare the students adequately.

The effects of hiring untrained teachers slowly started showing when numerous researches were conducted to see the effectiveness of the free education scheme. The researches showed scores of students whose ability was way below their level. One of the reports, The Uwezo Kenya Assessment Report 2013 released in the middle of the teachers strike last year, revealed that over 50 out of 100 students in classes four and five couldn’t comprehend stories written for class two pupils. Worse still, 11 out of 100 children in class eight couldn’t do simple class two maths! It then became clear that indeed, there had been a tradeoff between quality and quantity in education and the students were not benefiting fully as they lacked basic reading, writing and numeracy skills. This reality, leaves, in many a student, illiteracy, a legacy that is difficult to overcome even later in the educational cycle.

On the other hand, the role of the untrained teachers, cannot be trivialized. This is because as it is, Kenya is facing a shortage of 74,000 teachers. The Education Ministry had asked for a budgetary allocation of 9 billion to recruit at least 20,000 teachers. However, in the recently read budget, they were allocated 2.25 billion which will only employ 5,000 teachers and leave the deficit at 69,000.The schools will therefore be forced to make-do with the untrained teachers once again.

The other issue crippling education is the rather high turnover of trained teachers brought about by the societal negative perception that teaching is a last resort for ‘failures’. So those who go to study it get into the teaching profession half-heartedly as they wait for ‘better’ chances to come up. This is wastage of the education resources spent on training this particular individuals, moreover, more resources will be required to train others to come fill in the vacancies left by those who quit. The poor pay in the profession and ridiculous proposals like stopping teachers from engaging in any form of business only serve to hurt the tainted image further.

The government and education stakeholders can embark on changing this negative perception by first and foremost go on a competitive recruitment exercise complete with an entry exam and thorough in-service training programs. They can also turn teaching into a high speed career trade with rapid advancement schemes for best performers .Moreover the teacher training syllabus can be adequately updated to equip the trainees with knowledge on how to deal with students who haven’t undergone basic preschool training and thus lack foundation and those affected by emerging issues and emergencies like sex and conflicts for example cattle rustling and the terrorism threat.

Other issues that plight the quality of education and require urgent government attention include: lack of enough basic learning resources like textbooks; inadequate infrastructure like classrooms and desks forcing the children to sit on the floor.
In matters of education as in other serious issues, we as a nation may want to, in the words of a Nigerian saying, find out where the rain began to beat us first. Once we put a finger to where exactly the problem is, we could then, confidently channel our energies in the right direction and begin to solve the poor quality issue. Whose better placed to begin this journey of recovery than the team of principals meeting in Mombasa?