The African Executive caught up with Educationist John Njeru Proprietor of Embu Kawa Academy, writer and retired college Principal. Njeru’s resilience has seen him rise from classroom teacher, Head teacher, Senior Lecturer, Principal Lecturer, Deputy Principal, Senior Principal to Chief Principal.
Q. Briefly tell me about yourself.
A. I joined primary school in 1956. In 1956; the Kenya government was changing the education to class 7 from the original class 8. Those who did well in class 7 had thus an opportunity of joining form one with the class 8 leavers. I was privileged to be in this group. Due to unavoidable circumstances, I couldn’t continue with secondary school. I studied through Correspondence, did my Ordinary level exams and was admitted to Egoji Teachers College in 1967. After college, I was posted to a school where I was made the head teacher in the second year. While teaching, I studied through Correspondence, did the Advanced level exam (1971) and was admitted to Makerere University through the university of East Africa. At the University, I studied Bachelor of Education and concurrent Diploma in Education, with Geography as a major and completed in 1975. From then, I have taught and headed primary teacher training colleges till retirement.
Q. How did you develop interest in teaching?
A. I used to walk to church and Embu town via a secondary school. In this school, I admired how the teachers were dressed, the vehicles they had and their environment generally. The school had a lot of white teachers. I then thought teaching was a great idea.
Q. Can you say that you have received fulfillment as a teacher?
A. Oh yes! So many teachers have passed through my hands. It is a joy to see my products. Wherever I go, I meet my former students. Some are head teachers, others education officers. This gives me joy that I helped mould the community. Till 1993, teachers used to be employed directly upon competing college. I felt fulfilled to release a well-prepared workforce into the teaching market. I don’t regret being a teacher.
Q. Would you say that the (Kenya) government is giving the teaching profession the support it deserves?
A. Through lip service, Yes, but practically No! Teachers unions have actualized most efforts towards teachers’ welfare. For a long time teachers in the public system were almost reduced to beggars. They’ve been known in the shops as people who buy on credit and pay at the end of the month. I don’t believe things should take that trend. Last time the government cheated its teachers and glaringly admitted that it was a political gimmick.
Q. Can you be specific?
A. When we talk about teachers, we have to consider those who shape pupils right from pre school teachers, not much has been done. They are a neglected lot without specific terms of service. For primary school teachers, there is some progress brought about by union pressure. At least after three years, a teacher can rise to the next grade. Terms and conditions of service are slightly better for high school and tertiary level teachers. All these withstanding salaries are still a thorny issue compared to teachers working in private institutions.
Q. Are there any regulations impending the teaching career?
A. Most teachers who want to pursue their studies are denied a pay while on study leave. Upon completing studies, some come back to find themselves displaced and no longer welcome to the employer. Even after attaining a higher-grade say, a masters degree the renumeneration attached to it is quite negligible sending a message that it was a waste of time studying. How shall we industrialize our country as often touted by politicians if we don’t invest in the quest for knowledge? Look at promotions in the current system a lot of them are not merit based hence demoralizing teachers from pursuing higher learning.
Q. I was a teacher at the some stage. When students would perform well, the praise would go to the school head. On poor performance, school teachers were in for it. What is your comment?
A. The head of an institution cannot work alone. Heads need total support of the staff. In fact head teachers should teach in order to understand problems that classroom teachers go through. When a school succeeds, credit should be attributed to all, when it performs poorly, all should be responsible. Everyone has a part to play in the status quo. Heads should be held more accountable though for failing to provide direction.
Q. The current debate raging is that teachers should be remunerated according to their performance. Do you agree with it?
A. That’s right; infact the measure is long overdue. Payment should be performance based. There are many teachers who are not giving their work the attention it deserves but since they are assured of pay at the end of the month, they don’t care. Performance based payment will revamp the system.
Q. “Give me a text book and a pupil and I will give you high performance,” said a university don while addressing head of institutions. Do you agree with his sentiments?
A. Good teachers can produce results with minimum reference material but we also have to consider the nature of the child. Is he above average?
Q. Don’t you think that performance based payment will be a disadvantage to teachers having below average pupils?
A. Inborn potentiality is quite different. It can always be awakened regardless of the pupils’ environment. No pupil is better than the other. What matters is how the pupil exploits his potential. Let me give a word of caution however, for the system to work well, all schools should be given a level. Playing field in terms of infrastructure; a school with all facilities would not be pitted against one with pupils learning under a tree and have no library.
Q. What comment do you have on today’s youth, having interacted with them?
A. I find a good number of them irresponsible but I don’t blame them wholesome. Youth live in families. These families are integrated in societies. To judge them, one has to look at them in such contexts.
Q. If you were put in charge of youth affairs, what ramifications would you make?
A. First, I would advocate for the strengthening of the family unit. Many youths are what they are because their parents have not been good role models. They have left upbringing of youths to teachers. Parents must shoulder their responsibility and impart good morals to their children. Second, I would advise that schools employ staff purposely for guidance and counseling. As youth meet in schools and colleges, they exchange certain habits that may be detrimental. The guidance and counseling unit can play a big role here. Third, I would urge the religious system to uphold its role of moralizing the society. If the parents, churches, schools, mass media unite with a common objective of helping the youth, am sure there will be great impact. All these groups know what the youths need. Branding all youth “irresponsible” is quite unfortunate. Common wisdom advises that once you label someone a rebel, he becomes rebellious. We should develop a corrective approach.
Q. How do you spend your life in retirement?
A. I manage Embu Kawa Academy, a private school I set up. I also write. I have written several books on geography, History, Christian Religious Education for the primary school curriculum. The longhorn publishers who publish my work always ask me to accompany their marketing department to help market their books. I also do in-service training in various subjects.
Q. Would you like your school to be taken over by the government in future?
A. Not at all. It is good to have something you can call your own. An investment that you have power to determine its destiny without interference. In a private school, I am able to asses the teachers output. I am also able to control the teacher to pupil ratio factor. There is a close relationship between the teacher, pupil and parents in a private school and I like this.
Q. How much money does it take to have a private school registered?
A. Around Ksh. 36,000. Kshs 20,000 to the physical planners, Kshs.8,000 to approve the plan, Kshs.5,000 to the local authorities and a further Kshs.3,000. In addition, one should have land not less than 5 acres, adequate classes, toilets etc.
Q. Any last remarks to make?
A. The government should produce a conducive atmosphere for people to further their education, especially those teaching in teachers training colleges and secondary schools. Teachers should read beyond their initial qualifications and be current. Education is dynamic but some teachers are clinging onto information that has changed with the times. Teaching colleges should incorporate management training as a compulsory course. Head teachers need to be trained on managerial skills for they are blamed many times for making mistakes beyond their understanding. Look at the current free primary education system: the head teacher is everything from a teacher, storekeeper, an accountant to a foreman on construction site. This is too much! No wonder some have resigned. Private schools lacking facilities should network with those that have. There should be a balance between physical, social, emotional and intellectual development of pupils. Retirees should not be idle do something to change someone’s life positively. Don’t just sleep be active. There is still a lot for you to contribute to the society.
Q. For everybody what legacy are you leaving?
A. Do not put all your eggs in one basket; invest in as many fields as possible!
By Josephat Juma
Mr. Juma is an African Executive Writer
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