The latest of these decisions is the announcement by the Education CS that EMIS (Education Management Information System) would be unveiled in the Kenyan education sector at the end of this month.
There are a number of red flags in this announcement. First is that the two pillars of the EMIS mentioned by the CS are personal identification numbers for students, and closer monitoring of resources. The marriage of the two came from both the president and the CS in December last year, during the presentation of the problematic KCSE results to the president.
The thing is, EMIS isn’t only about management of resources. It also provides software for teachers to upload on their phones to record their students’ attendance, performance and more problematic, behaviour. In fact, the EMIS website mentions personal numbers only when it comes to the teachers’ records of students. So if even teachers are supposed to have access to EMIS, what exact data does the head teacher control? Will head teachers be responsible for changing the data of every single student in their school? How is that possible?
And if the data is supposed to include behavior, Kenyans must be very wary about the democratic implications of data from children from the age of 4 up to whenever they graduate. To have such data in the hands of government, without public access or a clear legal framework for such data, is very dangerous for a democratic society. Data on behavior could give the government the ability to put your kid on the "pathway" to jail or marginalization, based on the opinion of a teacher who doesn't like your kid because of your kid's tribe, faith, or who knows what else. Remember that this is a country where kids can be expelled for joining Drama club or drawing "satanic" artwork. Should such records follow them throughout the education system, as we have been promised? One of the fundamental pillars of education is that no one's future is set in stone. The point of education is that a child’s future can be continually molded through knowledge, training and opportunity. And any record of your kid before age of majority should be used with very strict guidelines, especially regarding parents' access to that information.
Whatever the case, we need a clear policy framework that informs the public about the type of data to be collected, who collects it, and who has access to it. The South African government does make data on enrolment publicly available on its website. It is unlikely that our Ministry of Education can make such information available when, as the CS himself says, there is no legal or policy framework for the EMIS system.
Worse, when it comes to access to information, the government is notoriously scanty on the details, especially when it comes to education. Getting information about our system change, misleadingly called “curriculum reform, has been like pulling teeth, and KICD has resorted to rude replies to our enquiries. As I write, the Ministry of Education’s website is gloriously out of date, with the latest document uploaded was the CS’s speech in January 2017. So even getting information on EMIS will be a very long shot.
Another curious detail, which I’m sure could be easily clarified, is the involvement of the World Bank and the Global Partnership for Education in rolling out EMIS. EMIS is an open source software, and so the government will not need to pay for it. So, as with every involvement of foreigners in our sovereign state, we need to know what exactly these two bodies are facilitating and what data they will be given. What is interesting though, is that the Global Partnership for Education is very deliberate in not mentioning the board members or sources of funding, except telling us the name of the Board chair.
But with the sums of money that the Global Partnership for Education doles out – in the hundreds of millions of dollars – any normal Kenyan would be curious to find out where that money is going and how it will be used. More than that, we’re not easily convinced that technology necessarily introduces more accountability when it comes to public funds. Our fingers have already been burned by IFMIS, which saw taxpayers lose billions of shillings to fraud and the central character in the scam elevated to a near hero.
Within the last year alone, Kenya’s education sector has been going through successive hurricanes. First was the blitz of failures in KCSE in the name eradicating cheating, which was preceded by school fires. We still have no way of verifying the destruction of cartels, since none of the culprits have been taken to court. More worrying for me, though, is the anti-university education and anti-arts education rhetoric that immediately followed, with Kenyans being told that all we need are technicians. Against the history of colonialism, racism and technical education, we Africans must be very wary about that agenda.
The second hurricane is the new education system, called “curriculum reform,” which has been carried out in secrecy, with questions being dismissed as unhelpful criticism. Currently, there is a new curriculum being piloted, but the public has no access to that curriculum.
And now we’re being told that our kids will have PINs, and that data will be collected on them, yet they are minors, and we do not have a legal or policy framework to guide how that data will be handled.
And the thread that runs through all these hurricanes experienced in our education system is
- a major, shocking blow to the education system
- the shocking event is explained as beneficial to the public and designed to trap villain educators (either absentee teachers or corrupt head teachers)
- the opaqueness of the action (we have no way of knowing the details because the data is not available, and we are supposed to trust the government on its word alone, after all, educators are irrelevant and corrupt)
- technology as part of the solution (which inevitably obscures the finer details, and intimidates people into silence, because it seems to say “if you don’t understand what we’re doing, it’s because you don’t understand technology")
And all this is happening when Kenyan media and voters are being entertained by election campaigns. Inevitably, thinking about a 25 year enterprise, education, is more boring than watching our political reality TV, in anticipation of the high that we will experience when results are announced in August.