The Teachers' Service Commission, the employer of teachers in Kenya’s public schools, recently announced that it is has rolled out the system of teacher appraisals in public schools in Murang’a County. That appraisals have started in the president’s home province, when the unions had opposed them, makes the process hardly innocent. But more than that, the faith in managerialism and all its offspring – targets, appraisals, performance contracts – is based on erroneous ideas, a problematic educational philosophy, and frankly speaking, a lack of a genuine and creative educational leadership.
What was ironical about this adoption of managerialism was that it came after ten whole years of academic research demonstrating the problems with managerialism in education in the UK. In the UK, mangerialism in education has meant more time spent on meetings, workshops and writing reports, rather than on teaching and research. It has also increased the need for more staff in management, sometimes almost equal to the number of teachers in the classroom, the deference to management, rather than faculty in academic decisions, and the demotivation of teachers to think, innovate, research and mentor.
Most of all, managerialism has mechanized the teaching profession. The core idea of a profession – be it in teaching, medicine, engineering, law and other areas, is that one is serving not their employer, but a larger good. That means that the ultimate reward of teaching is in contributing to students’ lives and the common good through service to humanity, and through creativity and ideas. So while the rise in rank still implies a rise in pay, the rise in pay is not the only, nor the ultimate, goal of the teacher. In addition, managerialism reduces the teaching profession to numbers, which discourages professional responses to situations that are not included in targets.
What does this mean on the ground? It means that teachers' loyalty is more to their targets and less to their students. So if a teacher notices that a student needs special attention, the teacher cannot pull resources together to help that student, since it was not in her targets.
Why has managerialism not given the returns it promised?
The fundamental problem with managerialism is that it oversimplifies the complex nature of education and the problems it faces. In the case of university education, for example, the problems are much bigger than performance of individual lecturers. For instance, any Kenyan who was old enough during the Moi era knows that university education was brought to its knees due to the firing, detention and exile of lecturers who brought their thinking to bear on what was going on in the country. The message that was entrenched then, and that still resonates now, is that creative thinkers are dangerous people who are not team players. University education therefore evolved into a tool of conformity, to such an extent that thinking has almost become foreign to our education system. I will never forget when, after I had rejected several lackluster drafts of a student’s paper for failing to be creative, the student asked me in genuine bewilderment: “Oh, so you want me to think?”
The other major impediment facing Kenyan public education is our seriously flawed education philosophy. Kenya’s main educational goal is to prepare employees for the market, not citizens for the nation. And most of those graduates expect to become managers. That is why it should surprise us little that few Kenyan graduate students of education study educational philosophy. The biggest post-graduate education program in Kenya is, (you guessed it), Education Administration. That means we’re no longer training teachers but managers of schools.
This cynical use of education has got us to where we are: with corrupt, self-centered graduates who can’t think of the public good, who fleece public coffers built on the sweat and tears of Kenyan taxpayers, and who know little about themselves, and even less about the world they live in. We have become a seriously conflicted society with dysfunctional national identity, hence we are swayed by the nonsense from our small-minded politicians.
Managerialism and extra supervision of teachers cannot solve these fundamental problems. All they do is increase paperwork through reporting evaluations, and increase supervision as the motivation in a delicate enterprise of education. Appraisal makes management, rather than the teacher and pupil in the classroom, the center of the education system. Its focus is on whether teachers taught, not on whether students are learning. Also, because the test of a teacher’s “performance” is in scores, examinations become the ultimate test of whether someone has taught or not. So the problems of exam-centered education such as cramming and drilling are not about to go away. But for me, the worst part is that contracting does not allow the teacher to intervene in the lives of students, because a teacher will be penalized for not meeting targets. Yet our children’s lives are more important than targets.
So managerialism hasn’t worked in the UK, but TSC now wants to implement it in our schools. What a tragedy that we don't learn from the mistakes of others – which is what education is supposed to teach – and instead we repeat the same mistakes for ourselves. But what is more absurd is that the pilot project for implementing performance contracts was sponsored by none other than the UK government. How does that work? We repeat the mistakes of Western countries and hope to achieve different results? Or we think Western mistakes are good mistakes?
We need to think creatively about education
There is no doubt that our education system is fraught with problems: demotivated or even truant teachers, understaffed schools, obsession with exams (and accompanying problems of cheating and cramming), and lack of creative and critical thinking skills among students. But all those cannot be solved by teacher appraisal; what education needs is creative leadership and vision that would improve working conditions and empower teachers to be professionals; not bait them with a carrot and stick.
We also need to remove the emphasis on exams and expand education opportunities. We should abolish KCPE, which we currently use as a tool to measure teaching and student learning. We need to guarantee education for every Kenyan up to form four, which would probably mean the government pulling out of providing boarding facilities and leaving parents to pay that cost. If we had a proper and functioning sports ministry and stopped grabbing every empty piece of land, the government could make sports and recreation a public service so that it is available to the public, and thereby reduce the need for learning institutions to invest in those facilities. What’s the point of having ten neighboring schools each with their own soccer, hockey and whatever field? Why not share those resources? Instead of inspecting schools for “quality assurance,” we should be talking of resource centers where teachers can get new material and centers which can send experts to help teachers improve their craft. And those laptops per child….come on. Why not have public libraries where communities can study and use computers? We're now going into an era where most Kenyans access internet on their mobile phones, so why spend billions on lap tops?
Also, the government could also encourage companies through tax breaks to organize apprenticeships and on-the-job training in conjunction with universities, reducing the need for universities to invest in the latest tech equipment, malls and other paraphernalia that are making the cost of education go through the roof. It is impossible for universities to be technically at par with industry because their goals are different. So why not collaborate?
Tyranny of numbers
Appraisals are a simplistic way of really understanding the complexity and intricacy of the education process by reducing every phenomenon to a number. Even TSC has said that promotions will be based on scores in the appraisal. Not on the impact of teachers in the lives of students, or better still, on the learning of the students.
And even then, the devil is in the details of what the appraisal form will be scoring. According to the form available on the TSC website, a teacher will be scored for “curriculum delivery,” administration, student discipline and participation of students in extra-curricular activities. Unless the TSC is planning to provide one teacher for every 30 students and for very few classes, that expectation is a joke. The teachers are going to be overworked and exhausted, and the people who will suffer most are the children. Appraisals will also increase inequality because teachers in the better equipped and funded schools will most likely score better and therefore get more promotions.
But more than that, parents should be worried about what that appraisal says about their children. The humanity of the children is so conspicuously absent from that appraisal. Instead, pupils are vessels to whom content is delivered – which is a nice way of saying the kids will be drilled for exams. And instead of seeing children as human beings in need of guidance and mentorship, the appraisal sees them as trouble makers, and so the only non-academic interaction teachers can have with kids is disciplinary.
Short of saying that Kenya needs a revolution, we need a mental overhaul. We need to see Kenyans – and especially our children – as people. We need to see education as the best way for children from all walks of life to get the opportunity to be the best they can be. Our educational philosophy of the market needs to be replaced by one of the society and citizenship. We need to see teaching as a profession, not as a job. We need to consult with teachers about what can make them creative and positive in the classroom. Like they do in Finland. But plastering teacher appraisal on the festering wounds of Kenyan education, and expecting the wounds to heal, is wishful thinking.