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Overflowing tray awaits new Education Cabinet secretary

George Kebaso @Morarak

Even as President Uhuru Kenyatta’s choice to head the Ministry of Education is being universally celebrated as the person to transform the sector, Prof George Magoha will find a plate overflowing with a mixture of policy and reforms hurdles that he must overcome to meet the sky high expectations.

His nomination 10 days ago to head the Education docket has unleashed excitement among admirers but also fear in the ministry and among cartels who hold civil servants to ransom. Acclaimed for his no-nonsense style of leadership, Magoha nonetheless faces an uphill task of steering reforms in the complex sector.

First, he must oversee the conclusive delivery of on-going radical policy and reforms in the sector. He must also implement quality controls in academic and co-curricular activities; deal with under-funding in schools and universities, address the often-delayed release of capitation money to schools and tackle perennial strikes across the spectrum.

Overcrowding

Magoha takes over the mantle when the government’s efforts to achieve 100 per cent transition from primary to secondary schools has ran into headwinds of resources, inadequately informed parents and infrastructure deficit in institutions. Over a million candidates sat last year’s Kenya Certificate of Primary Education (KCPE) examination.

Many secondary schools are grappling with overstretched facilities and shortage of teachers in the wake of increased admission of Form One students. The new CS will be required to give direction on the burden of overcrowding, which has seen schools improvise and come up with strategies to address the issue.

A taskforce report on school unrest released last year attributed  strikes partly to congestion. Furthermore, Prof Magoha will be overseeing the implementation of the new 2-6-6-3 Competency-Based Curriculum and challenges facing middle-level training, including teacher training colleges and Technical and Vocational Education and Training (Tvet) institutions. Stakeholders led by teachers unions have been questioning whether the country is  really ready for the new curriculum.

Teachers’ unions

Despite enthusiasm with Magoha’s nomination, teachers unions have warned they will oppose him if he initiates “unpopular” reforms. The Kenya Union of Post  Primary Education Teachers (Kuppet) secretary general Akelo Misori said: “We are ready for him but he must bring sanity in policy formulations; we will not accept knee-jerk policies as has been the case in the past”.

Misori said Kuppet expects Magoha to respect education stakeholders,cautioning that the union would only support him if he maintains education standards. “If he compromises quality education, we will resist. We don’t want strange policy directions,” he said.

His Kenya National Union of Teachers (Knut) counterpart, Wilson Sossion said Magoha must weed out numerous cartels in the education sector that are compromising quality. “He is not new to the sector. He has been at the university and recently was chair,  Kenya National Examinations Council (Knec). He must deliver through constructive consultation in the spirit of the Constitution,” he said.

Another challenge is the 2013 State policy to deliver laptops for primary school children. A flagship programme for the Jubilee Administration’s first term in office, the project is mired in confusiuon after  the State reversed the policy to go back to desktop computers.

For close to one year, there has also been a tug of war whether  Tvet institutions should fall under the Teachers Service Commission (TSC) or its sister government agency, the Public Service Commission (PSC). That was until recently when the Employment and Labour Relations Court reversed a move by the government that had put about 3,800 Tvet tutors under PSC.

Born in 1952 at Marenyo village in Gem, Siaya county,  Magoha is one of Kenya’s most celebrated scholars and academicians.  During his tenure as vice chancellor at  University of Nairobi, he was credited with effective management of student unrest.

In his autobiography titled, Tower of Transformational Leadership, the professor of urological and transplant surgery, underscores discipline and open-door policy as pillars of his leadership style.

Vice chancellors who spoke recently said they anticipate hard, abrasive times and reforms as Magoha understands the university sector very well. “We know he is a firm leader, so there are fears, but he can only do what he has to do within the law,” said one of the VCs.

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