The empty JSS promise: Where are the 16,000 classrooms?

1 month ago 8

What you need to know:

  • Sh3.39 billion was allocated in the current budget for construction of classrooms in primary schools where junior secondary school is domiciled.

With two and half months left to the end of financial year, the government has not put up the promised 16,000 junior secondary classrooms even as it allays fears that they will be ready by the time schools open in January 2024.

Sh3.39 billion was allocated in the current budget for construction of classrooms in primary schools where junior secondary school is domiciled. They are intended to accommodate Grade 9 learners after those vacated by the last Standard 8 last were this year taken up by Grade 8.

Although the target is to build 15,000 classrooms, there are over 23,000 public schools in the country. 

A newly-built junior secondary classroom

A newly-built junior secondary classroom at Mwiki Secondary School in Nairobi.

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

However, there is no available data on the number of classrooms already completed. Apart from the classrooms, public schools still do not have science laboratories for the teaching of science subjects. Stakeholders who spoke to Nation warned that failure to have the infrastructure in place and employ more teachers could hinder the implementation of the competency-based curriculum (CBC).

There has been a push by some stakeholders who cite lack of physical and human resource capacity in primary schools to transit Grade 9 learners to secondary schools. Secondary schools will have unused facilities as there will be no Form One admission and the teachers will also have less work as they will be handling only three classes. 

One of the six laboratories at Sheikh Khalifah Bin Zayed School in Mombasa County

One of the six laboratories that will be used by junior secondary school students at Sheikh Khalifah Bin Zayed School in Mombasa County on January 5.

Photo credit: Wachira Mwangi | Nation Media Group

This is in sharp contrast to the under-staffed junior schools where the majority of teachers are on contract and are forced to teach subjects they never trained in. While they handled one junior class last year, they have two this year and three next year. However, the Ministry of Education has shot down the suggestion and insisted that all the three JS classes will be domiciled in primary school. 

“We’ll be ready as far as infrastructure is concerned and teacher preparedness. We’ll employ 20,000 more teachers. Sh3.39 billion has been given to members of Parliament in the 290 constituencies. They will match that from the National Government Constituency Development Fund. We expect to build six thousand classrooms from that,” Education cabinet secretary Ezekiel Machogu said.

He said that Sh9 billion will be used to put up other 9,000 classrooms. The money is a donation from the World Bank. 

Speaking to Daily Nation Moses Maruti* a head teacher of a school in Bungoma County pointed out that many JS students struggle with language, leading to dismal performances, noting that the 100 per cent transition policy by the government has exacerbated the problem.

“Many students are struggling with assessment, some still don’t even know how to read, resulting in failure. Most of them are getting zeros, and it's disheartening, especially when our intention is to support their academic progress,” he said.

He noted that the mismatch between the subject combinations of teachers posted by the Teachers Service Commission (TSC) and the subjects taught in junior school adds to the frustration. 

“Many teachers often find themselves with subject combinations that do not align with the subject areas taught in junior school. This mismatch poses a challenge, as individuals with backgrounds in subjects like English or History may struggle to effectively teach subjects like Mathematics or ICT, so they become frustrated with this situation, leading to calls from educators across the country for the government to retrain them for high school subjects,” he told Nation.

“For subjects like ICT, these teachers don’t have the knowledge. This forces us to look for non-teachers to help our learners,” he said.

He emphasised the need for government to address the challenges schools face and highlighted issues such as inadequate infrastructure and the absence of laboratories.

“These children are at the mercy of the government because they will not have a teacher to teach them, schools do not have enough classrooms, which is forcing many of us to only teach theory, which beats the purpose of CBC,” he said. 

The principal secretary for Basic Education Belio Kipsang announced on February 9, 2024, that the government plans to build 16,000 CBC classrooms across the country to cater to Grade 9 learners.

Mercy Cherono*, a junior school teacher in Eldoret, Uasin Gishu County highlighted the daunting learner-to-teacher ratio, where tutors grapple with excessively large class sizes. She said teachers face challenges in meeting the individual needs of each learner, leading to insufficient support and guidance.

“My class has 98 learners. It is not possible to manage all of these children. You cannot identify the needs of each of them. Even after the number of subjects reduced to nine from fourteen, it is still not manageable. One has to prepare for lesson plans for each of the subjects,” said Ms Cherono.

She said that discrepancies between training and teaching responsibilities undermines the quality of education and hampers students' academic performance.

“For example, I scored a D in mathematics and I went for religion, because that is what I had performed well in. But now I'm teaching mathematics, so in terms of delivery of content, I'm not adequate enough to deliver well and to meet the needs of the students as far as their good performance is concerned,” she added.

Kelvin Sakali* a junior school teacher in Kakamega County emphasised the urgent need for the government to address the recruitment of Grade Six supportive supervision (GSS) teachers, known as lot two, to alleviate the strain on existing teachers.

“The government was expected to carry out another recruitment because the first recruited teachers are currently handling the pioneer class, which has moved to the next level. At times, it forces Grade Seven teachers to come back and handle Grade Six, exacerbating the problem of student-teacher ratio,” he said. 

Moreover, Mr Sakali revealed that the uncertainty surrounding the conversion of junior school teachers to permanent and pensionable terms affects their morale and financial stability. The TSC has said that all the teachers on contract who will have served for two years will be converted in January next year.

“Our salary of Sh20,000 is significantly lower than our permanent counterparts yet we have a heavier workload,” he said.

Mr Sakali expressed concerns regarding the lack of participation by education stakeholders, such as teachers and parents, in the implementation of recommendations proposed by the Presidential Working Party on Education Reforms.

“These reforms were directly implemented by the Ministry of Education without going through Parliament for approval. Such participation could have incorporated the views of all stakeholders,” he said.

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