CS Dr. Fred Okengo Matiang’i has done well, just. He has delivered a reportedly clean exam against a backdrop of filth of leakage that had become the KNEC circus every end of the year. Simply put, Dr. Matiang’i fixed a leak. Congratulations!
For someone who simply fixed a leak in a collapsing house, the words that I am hearing being used to describe this “feat of genius” are worrying, even ridiculous.
One leak in a house of 1000 leaks
I am afraid that the success of Dr. Matiang’i must be seen against the backdrop of a horribly broken education sector. He fixed a leaking pipe in a house with 1000 leaks, a falling roof, a crumbing foundation, collapsing walls, broken windows and a cracked floor. I have heard every word imaginable being used to describe this “success”: amazing, phenomenal, transformative, revolutionary, progressive, unprecedented, etc. On this one, Njoki Chege outdid herself. She described Matiang’i as, “the rain we have all been eagerly waiting for”, “the best decision that President Uhuru Kenyatta has made so far”, “that light at the end of this dark tunnel that Kenya has been walking through”, “the history of this country will smile at you”, “the man who transformed the education sector”, “rare breed of public servant”, restorer of “our faith in public servants”, one under whom “the days of cartels are numbered”, etc. Njoki is one who is no stranger in hyperbole, but folks, I think we are getting ahead of ourselves.
Imagine having a discussion with a foreigner from another country that may not even be as developed as Kenya. He asks you who the best performing Minister in the government is. You say Dr. Matiang’i. He asks, why? You say he produced a KCPE national exam without leakage. That he was walking around in the wee hours of the morning with his juniors to supervise opening of containers. That the exam was marked and announced early and the country was excited. Picture the utter confusion on this guy’s face as he asks, “Eeeh”, he did what? And how does that make him the best performing CS? Why would he go supervising opening of containers? Isn’t there a system and small people who are supposed to do that? As he was doing that, who was in his office doing the real CS work? Policy, transformation, innovation, modernization, the stuff that Ministers in functional governments do? How broken is your country that the best-performing CS is a plumber who goes around in the wee hours of the morning fixing leakages?” If the guy comes from West Africa, he remind you with a dismissive laugh, “the bird that flies from the ground and perches on an anthill is not far from the ground ooo!!”
Again, Dr. Matiangí has done well. He fixed a leak. Just.
A broken system and a complacent Kaimenyi
But, if you think fixing a leak by delivering credible KCPE exams is transformative, revolutionary, historical and all the other superlatives being bandied around, then you have absolutely no idea about the rot in the Kenyan education sector. And the effort and time needed to fix the rot.
Folks, it is a mess out there.
And we have deeper troubles than delivering un-leaked exams. Exams were never supposed to leak in the first place. Non-leaked exams should be the normal, it is not the revolutionary, the transformative, or the exceptional. It is just the normal, the barest minimum we would expect of a KNEC C.E.O, and not even of the CS. Leaked exams demonstrates mediocrity, unprofessionalism, laziness, utter dereliction of duty, dysfunctional systems and institutions and a sick civil service.
Prof. Jacob Kaimenyi failed, and has now produced a “hero” called Mating’i, a man who simply fixed a leak in the crumbling house called Education Sector, left behind by Kaimenyi. That makes Prof. Jacob Kaimenyi the quintessential Jubilee technocrat, long on talk and short on action. A guy who incubates a mess by setting the standards so low, that they make heroes of their successors. He was comfortable presiding over a crumbling education sector, and drew a salary for doing nothing and watching things “leak”, literally. In civilized governments, he would never have made it to CS and if he did, he would have been fired. Pronto. Predictably, the system recycled him. The Ministry of Lands needed some laxity and mediocrity after the exit of the indefatigable Charity Ngilu. Dr. Matiang’i lands in Jogoo house and begins by fixing “leaks” in a largely crumbing house and an exasperated and frustrated population make him a “revolutionary”.
Indeed, in the government where everyone including the President is under-performing, Matiang’i is a hero. In a regime where everyone was blind, the mono-eyed man became King.
A disillusioned populace in search of a hero
The brouhaha about Matiang’i only shows a country in desperate need of a hero. In a country where nothing good happens, where government from the President downwards seems clueless and helpless, anyone who delivers half an idea, even just fixing a leak, becomes that hero.
How did we get here?
What kind of national psyche heronizes a guy who simply normalized a situation which should never have been left to deteriorate to what it was and, in a sector whose problems go far beyond the fixing of exam leakages?
Let me give you a bit of background that puts this sense of false hubris in perspective.
After the ushering in of the new constitution, the Country was on a new high. We had been told that the Constitution would create Nirvana (heaven) for all of us. And we believed it. The expectations of the Country were therefore at an all-time high when we went to the polls in 2013.
And then a catastrophe happened.
On the presidential ballot were two leading horses, formations of the old order in two tribal contraptions called CORD and Jubilee. The choice was not between the old and the new, it was between two olds; the choice was not between the good and the better, it was between the bad and the ugly; the choice was not between forces of modernity and progression and those of stagnation, it was between two configurations of the status quo. Based purely on tribal arithmetic, we elected into office the biggest catastrophe that would ever have befallen the transformation movement that had been ushered in by the new constitution. We elected into office ICC suspects, a self-confessed-YK92-hustler and a 2002-failed-Moi-project.
We had been warned that choices have consequences. We are now suffering the consequences. Four years later, disillusionment is at its all-time high. The promise of Nirvana has turned into an unending nightmare for the people. Frustration, disappointment and anger are palpable. After the high expectations for a new dispensation, nothing has changed, nothing of significance has happened to change our lives and worse still we have no expectations of anything new, good or exciting to come our way. In deed choices have consequences.
In the world of oral narratives, it is at this point that the people go looking for a hero. Something is broken, stolen, missing, in Proppian terms there is lack. It is at such a time that Dr. Matiangí delivers a reportedly clean exam, and immediately, a desperate, frustrated, disillusioned country lurches onto him as a hero. Yes, he delivered a clean exam. But does that make him a hero, extra-ordinary or revolutionary?
I hate to rain on the parade, but I fear that it does not.
Exams are not supposed to be stolen in the first place. Dr. Matiangí did not reform anything, he did not revolutionalize anything, he did not transform anything, he simply normalized a situation. Exams are supposed to be set, distributed, administered, marked and released without leaking. That is the normal situation. Anyone who does that is simply doing their job – delivering the normal. Prof. Jacob Kaimenyi failed. He could not deliver the normal.
After the disappointment of the Jubilee government, I know we are looking for a hero. Desperately. So much so that we are happy to create one.
The long un-trodden road to heroism
I have described the education sector as a house with 1000 leaks, a falling roof, a crumbing foundation, collapsing walls, broken windows and a cracked floor. Sealing a leak in 2016 KCPE can at best be a good start on the long un-trodden road to heroism. Before we canonize Dr. Matiang’i on Mashujaa day as a Kenyan hero, and pop the champagne, let him go beyond fixing leaks in KNEC and fix the whole house of 1000 leaks in access, quality, financing and management of education. These include but are not limited to:
Let him do away with KCPE and ensure 100% transition from primary to secondary school. Sealing a leak in KCPE is and legitimizing it. It only gives credibility to a system where thousands of Kenyan children are denied secondary school education and called “failures”;
Let him reform a Ministry in dire need of new blood and new thinking, ran by dinosaurs from Jogoo house to the County Educational Offices, to Principals who are the biggest obstacles to educational reforms;
Let him reconstitute all statutory, regulatory and policy making bodies in the Ministry of Education and incorporate young Kenyans who are digitally savvy, bold, modern, progressive and futuristic;
Let him immediately de-register schools that have several exam centers to manipulate their performance, he has already called them “frauds”. Threats are not action;
Let him cause the prosecution and conviction of heads who are flouting the government fees structures and fleecing parents;
Let him stop the corruption that will see the average performing children of the rich gain entry into national schools at the expense of the poor, in fact let him do away with the current Schools’ hierarchy that segregates, discriminates and balkanizes students on performance and ethnicity;
Let him fire lazy heads who deliver bad results year in year out;
Let him shut down fake colleges fleecing parents and giving crappy certification to unsuspecting young Kenyans;
Let him dissolve and reconstitute all University Councils in Universities where tribalism, nepotism and “mtu wetu” has become the order of the day (please read ‘All Public Universities’);
Let him shut down village Universities that have been set up to appease degenerate politicians and tribal interests giving crappy degrees to unsuspecting locals; Or force the politicians to take their children there;
Let him regulate massification of tertiary education by closing down the deplorable conveyor belts that our Universities and tertiary colleges have become, awarding useless degrees and graduates without skills;
Let him revive the research function of Universities, currently non-existent in Universities producing useless PhD’s by the 100’s every year;
Let him give employers job-ready graduates through Competency Based Training and not zombies who have spent all their lives passing examinations and learning nothing;
Let him stop the “degrees for cash” extortion schemes in Universities where politicians aspiring and serving, those who have no value for knowledge and scholarship and hustlers can get quick easy degrees including PhD’s;
Let him establish at least one internationally recognizable center of academic, research & innovation excellence out of the myriads of delusional wannabe public and private Universities calling themselves “centers of excellence” and “World Class”;
Let him ring-fence the Ministry, education policy institutions and schools & colleges from politicians and politicization;
Let him establish a centralized national bursarys’ allocation scheme that ensures that needy children get financial assistance throughout their school life without having to run after corrupt politicians and their minders after every election cycle;
Let him ensure that government sponsored internships for acquisition of employability skills and mentoring becomes part of the regular training for every Kenyan college and University graduate;
Let him ensure access through universal financing of tertiary education for all qualified students and not just a few or for those whose parents can pay;
Let him stop the theft of public money through cartels in all educational institutions including theft of FPE money and looting of Universities by tribal cartels claiming “hii ni yetu“;
Let him re-engineer pedagogical practice in Kenya by demanding a review of all teacher training curriculum in the country and modern pedagogical skills retraining for all teachers;
Let him institute measures to enforce professionalization of the teaching career;
Let him modernize pedagogy at all levels of education and give us an education structure responsive to 21st Century needs and opportunities;
Let him establish a world class – truly world class – center for the gifted and talented where we ensure that the most talented kids reach their fullest potential and contribute in innovation and transformation;
Let him do away with the ridiculous laptops for Standard 1 Jubilee government nonsense and institute a cost effective and sustainable digitization of education at all levels;
Let him achieve Universal and compulsory primary and secondary education;
Let him ensure 100% completion of basic education and 100% transition to secondary and tertiary education;
Let him guarantee that no Kenyan boy or girl will be denied the most important tool for self and national advancement in the modern world: relevant knowledge;
And most important of them all, let him ensure that no child is left behind, by mainstreaming Early Childhood Education, the foundation of every child’s cognitive abilities throughout life, and yet the most neglected and demeaned sector of the education process in this country and especially in the rural areas.
If he does this, then, maybe then, we can move from the realm of the normal – like fixing leaks left behind by an under-performing CS – and wade into the realm of the truly transformational, even revolutionary. Before then, Dr. Matiang’i is a good performing CS, who fixed a leak, but just a mono-eyed technocrat in a Jubilee administration where everyone else is blind.