I know I am not hallucinating about this because the evidence is on my side and it speaks for itself but if I am, please forgive me. I have been severely lampooned in the last week for stating the obvious, that Education Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang'i is responsible, albeit partially, for the school indiscipline and arsons that are sweeping the country and I will explain why but in the meantime, my question is really simple, isn't it time that President Kenyatta himself took action?
Just how many schools to arson before the president acts? In my view, we have reached the tipping point and as we head to the next general elections, President Uhuru Kenyatta has his work cut out for him- he needs to step it up and reboot to stop the bleeding and reverse Matiang'i's rules albeit temporarily, his leadership is urgently needed to mitigate the damages wrought by some of his closest lieutenants beginning with his Deputy William Ruto and now Education Secretary Fred Matiang'i.
First, let me clear, President Uhuru Kenyatta is NOT the problem, the president is a good man and has a good heart but it is those around him that are a drag on Kenyatta. He may be hands off or delegates roles to people that he trusts but they let him down and us down, and yet the buck stops with the President, he must step up and crack the whip on rogue officers in his administration if there are going to be any meaningful changes, not just in education but in the entire government. That's the only way he can fix the problem and restore public confidence in government. I am limiting my scope here to Matiang'i vis a vis education:
Let me start by saying that I think Matiang'i means well, he didn't purposely set out to exacerbate existing problems much less anticipated this level of backlash but clearly he rubbed many folks the wrong way, particularly the young and impressionable students in the short time he has been the education secretary. I don't need to belabor the obvious. I believe he came in with a plan to clean house and restore order in a key sector of our society bedeviled by hopelessness and dysfunction in desperate need of reform and I truly believe he thought, perhaps still thinks, he is doing the right thing but let's also be brutally honest, it obviously has gone awry and we need to step back, reassess and redeploy. The president needs problem solvers not more headaches and by all objective measures Matiang'i's approach in tackling the issues in Education have added to the president's headaches, not lessened them. The sector was on a downward spiral as it were under Jacob Kaimenyi and Matiang'i was supposed to fix it but he has aggravated the problem instead – this fiasco can be described as the quintessential "jumping from a frying pan right into the fire" and it is not rhetorical or hyperbole, this is real. The education sector is now the laughing stalk and is getting worse by the day.
Just to illustrate and to put it into perspective on how low our education system is regarded, I saw an AD (VACANCY NOTICE) just this week by an Asian technology company in Nairobi that blatantly showed its contempt of Kenyan graduates- it invited recent ASIAN "high school" graduates to apply for sales jobs - NO EXPERIENCE NECESSARY while KENYAN applicants MUST possess a college Diploma or Degree and at least ONE YEAR EXPERIENCE to work as a STORE KEEPER" (essentially a cashier), in other words Kenya's Diplomas and Degrees and work experience are only equivalent to an Asian high school education – I mean if that doesn't get your attention, I am not sure what will. Under Kaimenyi, the relationship between educators and the Jubilee regime were frosty and hit an all-time low over wages dispute where they felt cheated and teachers went on strike at the most critical time – third term, the examination semester and of course this resulted in the worst exam cheating on record. Teachers were and still remain demoralized if the current unprecedented school arsons and indiscipline is anything to go by. Matiang'i was supposed to fix all that but instead, but schools are literary burning to the ground instead, it is NOT a coincidence.
How Matiang'i worsened the situation:
The rationale of Matiang'i's new measures do not square with reality insofar as they don't demonstrate a correlation between the problems in the schools and the fixes he announced. In other words, I believe that the Secretary misdiagnosed the problem and then prescribed the improper remedies and that is the disconnect that needs to be revisited. Some of the measures he announced are just obnoxious and ill-advised and have absolutely no nexus whatsoever to the cheating problem or the cartel corruption he blames for the backlash that obviously rubbed the students the wrong way. For example, some of the most egregious measures he announced were the "banning all social activities in the third term — including prayer days, visiting, half term breaks, sports, prize-giving ceremonies and annual general meetings — to cut contact between candidates and outsiders"! http://www.nation.co.ke/news/Tough-rules-to-stop-exam-cheats-unveiled/1056-3209416-1dxn99z/index.html . Maybe it is just me, but what if anything, do these measures have to do with cheating or fighting corruption? What evidence or studies did Matiang'i conduct or rely on that informed him that these were indeed the causes of cheating and corruption in schools? And how does he show that the measures he announced would remedy these problems? I say it is conjecture and speculation on his part.
First, Kids and parents have no control of exam materials, the Kenya National Examination Council (KNEC) which the CS has direct and complete management authority over, controls examination materials and so if he really wants to stop cheating, he should control that spigot that leaks the exams, not the children. He is certainly barking at the wrong tree – again it is the KNEC which is directly under his nose in Nairobi that needs to be controlled, maybe they should be banned from prayers, visits, breaks and social activities if he thinks that resolves the problem (of course I am being facetious) but my point is, he's barking at the wrong tree, the rules should have been directed at the KNEC.
Then to add insult to injury, rather than accept responsibility for precipitating an escalation of lawlessness among our youth, he has deflected and now blames teachers, parents, "corrupt cartels" whom he says are fighting back without an explanation as to how. I think that is an insult to our intelligence and to the kids because the inference labels the students as corrupt as it invariably imputes that the students themselves, across the country, many of whom who don't know each other from Adam, are in cahoots with the unknown "corrupt cartels" and have colluded or conspired together to fight Matiang'i. That is a big leap and stretch of rationale, it just doesn't jive. Of course there's plenty of blame to around and the students are part to blame but the buck stops with the leadership, absent proper leadership anarchy reigns just as we see now.
The Arsons are not tied to corruption
Whereas Kenya is famous for its corruption and it's a culture entrenched even at the highest offices, the President has himself admitted that it is a problem and clearly it persists but it is now also a convenient scapegoat to cover failure as we now are being told by Secretary Matiang'i – I disagree. It is called "attribution" – the old "dog ate my homework" excuse and it is untrue, it is deflecting from reality, which is, Matiang'i's approach to fixing the ministry are flawed have flopped because they are ill advised. There's no correlation or evidence, actual, anecdotal or otherwise that ties the school arsons to "corrupt cartels" as Matiang'i wants us to believe. To believe that, we must also be willing to accept the farfetched notion that impressionable kids (teenagers) across the country, who don't know each other from Adam, have colluded with the "Corrupt Cartels" for the purposes of fighting on their behalf against Fred Matiang'i's bold but unstated fight against the cartels- I mean that's how convoluted and cockamamie that is – it is illogical. What do the kids themselves stand to gain? Who are the cartels? And please don't get me wrong, I am not saying they don't exist, after all this is Kenya- they do, but it is a stretch to link the two, there is no nexus. The only nexus in Matiang'i's new rules and the arsons by kids reacting to them, all else is hyperbole.
Matiang'i could take lessons on "Change Management" before imposing his ideals on other:
Some have said Matiang'i is "bold' and has "guts" in this saga but I think he, at least in this instance, displayed an enormous amount of arrogance and ignorance of the issues at hand and worse, failed a fundamental leadership test- change management. It is uncharacteristic of his profile and background because an official public profile published in April, 2013, Dr. Matiang'i is described as "a governance and programme implementation expert" and the immediate former Country Director of the Kenya Parliamentary Support Programme, http://www.nation.co.ke/news/politics/Profile-Dr-Fred-Okengo-Matiangi/1064-1756354-12ligjdz/index.html . So this is someone who knows or should know a thing or two about managing change. But Matiang'i came across like most of Africa's narcissistic leaders with the "big man syndrome" instead. Change is gradual, measured, reasonable and collaborative –a good manager would involve all stakeholders- where everyone who has skin in the game has a say-so, in this case, teachers and parents and ultimately students. Whether he agrees with them or not. Instead, Matiang'i, ALONE, arbitrarily and abruptly came down hard with a hammer, almost like a maniac with an edifice complex on ego-trip mission to prove a point and compounded the problem in the process. We have seen similar tendencies from Deputy President William Ruto who allows is own sense of importance get the best of him and ends up antagonizing the president against his allies, it is divisive.
Needless to say Matiang'i started off on the wrong foot in the manner in which he went about fixing the problems; approach and style matters a lot – in this case, Matiang'i knew or should have known he was stepping on a hot powder-keg and his first order of business should have been to improve relationships between the central government and the students, teachers and parents. He should have tried to mend fences and built alliances first, that would have been the smart thing to do especially given that the government has sour relationship with the sector as it is already – as with teachers' pay and the laptops saga – just to mention a couple.
TO END SCHOOL CHEATING:
Controls at the Kenya National Examination Council (KNEC)
As I have stated above and as an educator myself, I believe there are better ways to end cheating starting with internal controls at the Examination offices at KNEC. Obviously that's where the problem is and if it is fixed at the top, then this wouldn't even be an issue in the first place. I am not privy to what those controls are or look like but clearly they are not working and I would gladly be happy to assist identify the gaps and plug them if they care to ask. The so called "corrupt cartels" wouldn't exist but for deficient controls, that's a fact.
Exams should be Concept oriented
Whereas Kenya's education curriculum needs a complete overhaul and makeover so our graduates are taught relevant skills that would help them compete in the global economy, making exams concept oriented is the perhaps the easiest, low hanging fruit if you will, of creating a fool-proof exam regime. What we have now in Kenya is a "Uniform" exam that is primarily predicated on memory and less on understanding the concepts, in other words we have a single version of each exam that students are tested on and it makes cheating extremely easy. If on the other hand, our exams are set in a manner that tests the same concepts but in different versions, even as low as 10 or as high as 100 different versions, randomly chosen and distributed at examination centers themselves and nationally, it would help make exams fool proof and next to impossible to cheat, it would be like hitting the lottery to get an exam that students already chit sheets to, almost like hitting a lottery because it astronomically increases the odds that the student would have the leaks that actually match the exam version he/she randomly gets on exam day. This is a practice I and other instructors and even proctored exams employ in the United States and it works. No additional resources or costs are required. Students would be compelled to learn the material and apply the concepts at exams.
HOW THE PRESIDENT CAN FIX THIS IMPASSE
By no means am I an expert nor am I pretending to be one but if I were advising President Kenyatta, this is what I would tell him and expect him to do:
a) Reverse Matiang'i's rules for now to stop the bleeding, let's go back to the drawing board and start over
b) Require Matiang'i to work collaboratively with representatives of ALL stakeholders starting with teachers, PTAs and student governments to come up with practical and realistic rules that have greater buy-in from the affected parties
c) We need reforms at the KNEC, that's the source of corruption in the examination matters, it is where corruption resides and thrives
d) fix corruption at the ministry itself but don't mix the issues, for example corrupt officials who collude with teachers to divert funds meant for the students' benefit should be dealt with separately and not lumped up with unrelated issues like we are witnessing now
e) Revamp our curriculum, it is an extreme imperative Mr. President. Let us help you get this done, not the clergy or parents. In the last published reports on this issue, the ministry invited, in my view, the wrong parties like the clergy to help craft the country's new curriculum – that's a disconnect, no employers were invited, these are the folks we need at the table if these graduates stand a chance of competing for jobs in the economy.