Education CS Fred Matiang’i has been consistent with his “Magufuli moments” and Kenyans are absolutely loving it. He does not have the rash abrasiveness of Joseph Nkaissery and Nelson Marwa, or the disturbing intrusiveness of Ezekiel Mutua and Joseph Kaimenyi; his is the demeanour of a loving but strict father. Dedication has seen him not only win over his fiercest critics in the teachers unions but also present a genuine hope that, for the first time in as long as anyone can remember, we are having credible national exams.
Reclaiming moral uprightness in the education sector is a good starting point in the fight against impunity, which is why Matiang’i’s actions are so important for this country. In a tasking education system where children spend most of their time in class, it is at school that characters are moulded and the destiny of the nation shaped. A government saddled with impunity paints a very bad reality of the goings-on in school thus far, which verdict is even more damning for a handful of top schools that have so far dominated the leadership of this country.
Courtesy of Matiang’i, the overwhelmingly high number of As (a curious characteristic of recent years) is expected to reduce. This should translate into an improved quality of university education since universities will, once again, be dominated by deserving students. Teachers will also have to work harder since the short cuts of years gone past will no longer be available to them. This will go a long way towards improving service delivery as favourably populated institutions of higher learning usually translate to a better equipped work force.
The fires that had become a national concern also seem to have burned out. And so abruptly have they that the narrative that they were the creation of cartels out to frustrate the good Secretary, adopts credence. When teachers push students to burn schools or cheat their way through exams, as it was supposed, they legitimise the idea of self preservation at all costs which in turn rationalises theft of public resources and unwarranted civil disobedience.
That the CS has so far remained unbowed to public pressure to influence appointments, even admissions, is also another laudable departure from the trends of the years past. The same rings true for the institutionalisation of student participation and negotiated leadership within schools.
Student unrest had for long been associated with dictatorial school regimes but the bigger problem was that when thrust at the centre of tribal haggle by locals and politicians, students stopped viewing their mates with brotherly lenses and became tribal zombies. While this was more common with lower cadre schools, elite institutions had themselves suffered from a prefect tyranny imposed upon them by administrations that were all but too lazy to carry out their duties.
And as students suffered in silence, these schools sold this feature as a distinguishing novelty. Then came Matiang’i. A strict supervision of teachers has ensured that cases of inter-student conflict are on the decline, not to forget that the likelihood that some of these corrupted prefects end up at the echelons of national leadership is minimised. Impromptu inspections have also reduced the levels corruption and wastage within schools – which is the good CS’s little yet commendable way of dealing with a phenomenon that has metamorphosed into a national crisis.
Education needs not only to educate its benefactors but also to empower them. Where experts have blamed the inadequacies of government on the inability of citizens to properly audit their government, educationists need to ensure that schools produce civic-minded citizens, who understand their rights, and the capacity for collective bargaining. Education also needs to catapult a producer economy by inculcating in its benefactors the need to be creators and entrepreneurs.
In summary, a tendency towards impunity isn’t natural; it is a habit acquired over the years. The only way of eradicating it is by habitually, throughout the life of a student, preaching its ills. The problem of our education has been that while shareholders condemn it, their actions almost always negate their statements. Children see, learn and recreate. At long last, it seems, they are getting a chance to get the right induction.