Two weeks ago, we read a story in Nation.Africa about ‘Primary school teachers who have PhDs’. In the story, we learnt about Dr John Timon Owenga, Dr Violet Otieno and Dr Daughty Onyango Akinyi, all of whom have PhDs in Educational Psychology (Dr Owenga) and Early Childhood Development Education (Dr Otieno and Dr Onyango).
However, in spite of having PhDs, these three are yet to get a chance to use their knowledge and skills in ‘big jobs’ and have been left to teach in primary schools, where pupils wonder why their teacher is also a ‘doctor’.
Earning a PhD is no mean feat. It takes a combination of time, energy and resources, especially for primary school teachers in rural Kenya. It is hard enough for full-time students on scholarship to earn a PhD. I can only imagine the untold sacrifices made by these three teachers.
However, it would appear all the effort and energy spent in advancing their education, knowledge and research skills was in vain, given that nothing has changed in the lives of these three individuals, save for the new title and academic certificates. Their academic advancement did not translate to the bigger and more challenging opportunities they had hoped for, neither did it put more money in their pockets.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with having PhD holders teach in primary school. In any case, I think it is admirable how teachers with that level of education are able to relate with children that age and how they manage to break down their complex knowledge into simple, easy-to-grasp concepts.
Move up the ladder
However, the expectation of these three PhDs was that they would move up the ladder from instructing at primary school level to teaching at the university, supervising graduate students and publishing their research. Like every other hardworking Kenyan, they were led to believe that in this country, if you work hard and constantly advance your knowledge and skills, there would be a reward at the finish line.
The fact that this has not happened yet should be an opportunity for reflection, particularly for the Teachers Service Commission (TSC), who need to help us answer this question: “What are TSC’s plans for P1 teachers who advance their academic qualifications to master’s and PhD levels?”
TSC should not only encourage and support self-improvement among teachers, but also create pathways for their career advancement after they have put in so much work to earn graduate degrees.
Simply put, brave teachers like Dr Owenga, Dr Otieno and Dr Onyango need to be in jobs and roles that are commensurate with their qualifications, experience and skills.
In a country with only a little over 10,000 PhDs, I don’t see why these teachers should be denied opportunities to work at the university and research institutions.
Failure to reward such effort sends a very strong message to the younger generation; that hard work does not always pay.
The writer is the Director, Innovation Centre, at Aga Khan University; [email protected]