In my column last week on the future of business, I argued that education would perhaps see the greatest disruption in coming days. This is because the sector has the most problems that technology can easily resolve.
The lethargy in public education will soon be a thing of the past. Online content delivered by some of the best tutors, who will replace indolent teachers. It is not a question of whether this will happen, but when it begins to happen on a large scale.
The Economist of August 1 had a well-researched article titled “The $1-a-week school” with the kicker “Private schools are booming in poor countries. Governments should either help them or get out of their way.”
The article argues that, “Powerful teachers’ unions are part of the problem. They often see jobs as hereditary sinecures, the state education budget as a revenue stream to be milked, and any attempt to monitor the quality of education as an intrusion. The unions can be fearsome enemies, so governments leave them to run schools in the interests of teachers rather than pupils.”
A 2013 World Bank report, Service Delivery Indicator (SDI), paints a grim picture of the happenings in our schools. Close to 50 per cent of the time, teachers in rural public schools are absent from the classroom. This compares unfavourably with private schools where teacher absence from the classroom stands at 31 per cent.
In an eight-hour-day teaching schedule, students in public schools receive an average of 2 hours 19 minutes of teaching compared to 3 hours and 18 minutes in private schools. The SDI report also says that less than 40 per cent of the teachers have minimum knowledge in the subjects they teach.
This is happening as thousands of graduates languish at home without jobs and the technology to deliver globally competitive content is readily available. If we want to focus on the student and professional teaching, the government must encourage private schools.
It is the only strategy that will force the unions to put the interest of the student ahead of their demands. It will also force them to accept monitoring of the quality of education as a prerequisite for salary enhancement.
Unfortunately, the government has already made a serious error of judgement by abolishing the ranking of schools. This decision means there is virtually no formula in place to monitor quality of education, and to recognise and reward performing schools.
In 2012, a civil society organisation, Twaweza Communications, did a study in which it picked class three pupils and administered class two tests in numeracy, English, Kiswahili and a combined test.
The results showed that “a little less than one in three children were able to pass the Kiswahili (32pc) and numeracy tests (29pc), but only one in six passed the English test (16pc).
Similarly, less than one in six were able to pass both the literacy and numeracy tests combined (15pc). These results imply that the vast majority of pupils are not acquiring basic competencies during the early years of primary school as expected in the national curricula.”
The answer to these problems lies with new business models in teaching and digital learning, which is already here with us and is quickly coming to the ubiquitous mobile platform. Content has been gamified, making learning more fun and interesting. Traditional methods of teaching will remain for some time but teachers will have to keep up with the new pace of learning from multiple sources.
As more and more people move on to the middle class, such concepts as universal education will cease to be politically correct. Most students will be in private schools that will more likely be better equipped than public schools.
This trend is not unique to Kenya alone. The Economist survey covered many countries including India, Nigeria and Kenya. The poorest of the poor neighbourhoods led the way with many private schools. In Mathare, the article counted more than 120 private school compared to four public schools. A recent mapping of Kibra revealed that more than 96 per cent of schools are private-run.
Many Kenyan parents spend a fortune to have their children get a good education but new policies from the government consistently undermine growth of private education yet we know there are challenges in public education. It is perhaps time the government embraced private education as complementing, if not offering alternatives to, public education.
Aristotle said, “It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.”
The writer is a technology enthusiast and an associate professor at University of Nairobi’s Business School