Teachers Need Help so They Can Teach Well

November 8, 2018

Would you board an aeroplane if you knew that the pilot did not pass his flying classes?

Or accept to be operated on by a surgeon who scored below 40 per cent in his/her surgery assessments?

Your response is likely to be negative.

So, why do we allow a teacher to teach math, yet he failed the subject in high school or cannot demonstrate an understanding of primary school math?

It is easy to draw parallels with the case of the Form Two leaver in Turkana county who is now treating patients in a formal health facility.

This is hardly the case in education. Studies done among primary school teachers in Kenya can demonstrate this.

For example, two separate studies carried out by the African Population and Health Research Centre (APHRC) in 2010 and 2013, in rural and urban Kenya, show that about 30 per cent of primary school pupils are taught math by teachers who score less than 40 per cent in math knowledge assessment.

Even more baffling is why those who are responsible for ensuring teaching quality abet this.

If you think these are small proportions, let me put it into perspective. In Kenya, 10 million children are enrolled in primary school. Thirty per cent of this is well over three million.

This means that over one-third of the primary school enrolment may not be learning math and have no chance of achieving competence as they are denied an opportunity to access a capable math teacher.

The immediate and long-term implications include a negative attitude to the subject, poor arithmetic skills, and loss of opportunities that come with numeric skills including employment and further studies in areas requiring a strong background in math.

In no way am I blaming the primary school teachers. The school management assigns them teaching subjects regardless of their level of competence, hence they find themselves teaching subjects they would rather not. Such teachers may be competent in other subjects.


Various policy decisions and strategies can address this problem instead of hiding under the guise of “teacher shortage” and “regional balancing” in teacher recruitment, including training. One such strategy is to assign teachers only subjects in which they are competent.

Another one is to require pre-training qualifications with at least three subjects with a grade C+. Others may include classroom-based teacher support to coach and mentor the tutors in contextualised teaching practices. Measuring what teachers do and using a harmonised legal framework for the education sector are also useful strategies.

The most important thing for decision-makers to remember is to send a competent teacher to the classroom. Though home-grown solutions can quickly get traction, countries such as South Korea are investing heavily in teaching quality, attracting only the best university graduates and paying them reasonably well.

This has nothing to do with parallel degree programmes that have become popular with almost everyone in Kenya, including employers.

This should be useful food for thought to those charged with teacher management systems.