A teacher at St. Mary’s Girls Primary School in Nakuru teaching her pupils (Kipsang Joseph, Standard).
With the introduction of Free Primary Education (FPE) in 2003, there has been a significant increase in school enrolment and completion rates. The national number of students increased by 39%, while primary school completion rates have increased by 18.2% since 2003. Although this is a success for levels of educational attainment and accessibility of education, it has had adverse effects on the quality of education. A primary indicator of this is the influx of students unmatched by the number of teachers available.
The child enabling environments initiative deliberates on all aspects of students’ experiences in educational environments. In Kenyan primary schools, EAI researchers have observed overcrowded classrooms, however, recently constructed classrooms blocks are not being utilized. School staff have indicated there are insufficient teachers to instruct in the new facilitates, despite having the space to address classroom congestion. This concern has prodded inquiry into other areas of student-centered learning outcomes, such as pupil-teacher ratios.
The recommended Pupil-Teacher Ratio in Kenya public primary schools is 40:1, but the current average in Kenya is 56:1, with a greater disparity in rural areas. With high pupil to teacher ratios, teachers are unable to effectively address individual students, discipline children in a healthy way, encourage concentration or engage in interactive learning.
Overcrowded classrooms and overworked teachers can lead to teacher burnout, which adversely impacts education. Studies on teacher burnout indicate the effects as educators become ill, impatient, absent, lack commitment, and poorly perform as a result of their stress. Consequently, this negatively influences students’ success in the classroom. If more teachers are hired, students will be able to utilize all classrooms blocks and learn in spacious environments conducive to learning. With an increase in teacher hiring, it is hoped that budgetary increments for the provision of better working conditions will also take place; thus, encouraging improved provision of education.
Hiring teachers also brings about an opportunity to mobilize public sector resources to tackle related urgent social issues, such as unemployment. As reported in the AKU EAI Youth Surveys, 55% of youth are unemployed, with only a 30% employment rate among university graduates. Kenya has talented and trained professionals, but opportunities for accessing quality employment are not easily availed. In light of the high unemployment and a desperate need for educators, if educational provisions are made pertinent with training and opportune working environments being built to develop appeal, a “win-win” situation will occur. While job creation in the teaching and learning sector will not completely solve the problem of unemployment, sectoral initiatives can inform a nationwide response.
In the Government of Kenya’s Second Medium Term Plan (MTP) of Vision 2030, the recruitment of more teachers and job creation for youth is noted as a priority. TSC Chief Executive, Nancy Macharia, announced that the Teacher’s Service Commission (TSC) is to recruit 8,000 new teachers by the end of the financial year. However the National Treasury Secretary, Henry Rotich, was only able to allocate the TSC a budget of 3.2 billion to support this initiative; further muddying the waters is the inconsistent and lack of information regarding the strategies to implement these intentions. These accounts are simultaneous with the recent controversy between the TSC and the Kenya National Union of Teachers (KNUT), where teachers have expressed receiving demotions and pay cuts as well as withheld salaries; all of which has further negatively impacted educational outcomes.
Although the negative effects were unanticipated, implementing the FPE without acknowledging potential adverse effects has exacerbated an already stressful profession of teaching. Teachers play an essential role in the lives of children during their formative years of development as they instruct the leaders of the next generation. Supporting professional development and hiring of teachers to reach the recommended pupil-teacher ratio would contribute to higher quality education in public schools, lower unemployment rates and improved communities.
Kristin Swardh is an EAI Research Assistant, conducting research on child enabling environments in Kenya.