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Columns And Opinions

Public school funding formula needs review

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By EDITORIAL
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The thrust of the concern of secondary school principals is inadequate financing and teacher shortage that threaten to denigrate quality of education.

However, the Education ministry and the government at large, while acknowledging the challenges, seem not to appreciate the urgency to tackle them.

This is the message running through the Kenya Secondary Schools Heads Association Conference that started on Monday in Mombasa and ends tomorrow.

Schools are reeling under huge debts and have to make do with worryingly few teachers.

This is a consequence of poor policies, some driven by populist political considerations as well as lack of planning.

First is policy, and herein are several issues to canvass. One is the cap on school fees, with the government having decreed in 2014 that the highest amount schools can charge is Sh53,000 a year.

That was five years ago. For all practical reasons, the figure was arrived at with several assumptions, among them that the government would provide all teachers and heavily subsidise secondary education.

However, the government subsidy, which was enhanced two years ago, stands at Sh22,000 a student per year. But it is neither adequate nor, troublingly, disbursed on time.

Considering that inflation has risen drastically, the designated amount cannot run schools and, consequently, most of them run on debt and cannot meet their financial obligations.

Services have gone down and students’ welfare, mainly food and accommodation, severely compromised.

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Add to this inadequate infrastructure, including hostels, dining halls, classrooms and laboratories. This does not augur well for quality education.

Second is poor planning, resulting in chronic and biting teacher shortage.

By its own admission, the Teachers Service Commission requires 87,393 teachers to meet the shortfall — half of these in secondary schools, whose problem has been exacerbated by the new policy of 100 per cent transition.

The gravity of the matter is manifested at the school level, where, head teachers say, every institution has an average deficit of six teachers.

They are, therefore, forced to employ teachers outside the budgetary allocation.

This is why we do not agree when Education Cabinet Secretary George Magoha says schools should not raise fees while at the same time ruling out additional government subsidies.

Schools cannot run like that; it’s a recipe for disaster. We need a candid discussion on the funding of secondary education, teacher recruitment and deployment and related policies to guide teaching and quality standards.

To this end, the government must conduct a fresh survey to determine the unit cost of providing secondary education and allocate resources appropriately to plug deficits.





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Columns And Opinions

Buhari’s pointless electoral win in the ill-formed organism called Nigeria

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By TEE NGUGI
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On May 29, Muhammadu Buhari was sworn in for his second term as President of Nigeria. The assumption of democratic theory is that in an election, the electorate considers different options and settles for the one that will best advance their interests.

If one of the options is an incumbent, then the electorate judges to what degree their interests were served during his or her expired term, and whether any one of the other candidates could do better in that regard. The process of weighing the pros and cons of available opinions is supposed to be done objectively and logically, and to be driven by self-interest.

And yet in some parts of the world, this process is often subjective, illogical and, bewilderingly for political scientists, driven by factors that work against self-interest. In Kenya, for instance, before an election cycle, people discuss objectively and logically the attributes of persons who should be elected to public office. But come election time, and the single most important consideration is ethnicity.

This ethnic formula has proven time and again to not only be flawed, but to work against the electorate’s self-interest. A lawyer on a TV panel once made a truly scary statement. Even if, he said, the cost of bread had shot up to 500 shillings ($5) in Uhuru’s first administration, the people who had woken up at 3am to vote for him in central Kenya would do so in the next election.

In Egypt, during the revolt against Hosni Mubarak, people agreed that they wanted equality for women, individual rights, a better economy and democracy. In the election that followed the overthrow of the dictatorship, they elected the Islamist Muhammed Morsi, whose philosophy was not to advance the values of the revolution but to govern the country according to another set of restrictive and oppressive laws.

In both Kenya and Egypt, the process of weighing the options on offer was determined by factors not contemplated by democratic theory.

It is only within this context – of a disconnect between theory and reality – especially in Africa, that we can understand the re-election of Buhari for another term.

Buhari had promised to defeat the Islamist Boko Haram terrorist group that had made regions in the northeast of the country wastelands of death and destruction. In the same vein, he vowed that he would rescue all the Chibok girls kidnapped by the terrorists to serve as sex slaves.

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On the first score, he failed miserably. One of the largest armies in Africa was not able to significantly limit Boko Haram’s operations, much less defeat them. As for the rescue of the girls, many remain in sexual captivity. To date, Boko Haram is still able to kill and kidnap at will in Nigeria, and also in Cameroon.

Buhari had vowed to tackle corruption and grow the economy. While it can be argued that corruption is not what it used to be in the days of Olusegun Obasanjo and Ibrahim Babangida, it continues to be the greatest threat to Nigeria’s economic wellbeing. Federal and state officials continue to divert millions of dollars into private pockets. Countless other millions go into funding the ostentatious lifestyles of federal and state fat cats.

Nigeria, just like before, is wracked by inefficiency and poor strategic planning. The country has failed to diversify its economy and is still largely dependent on oil exports. Nigeria boasts that it is the largest economy in Africa, but its financial and governing institutions, and its telecommunications and road infrastructure lag behind those of South Africa.

In per capita terms, Nigeria pales into insignificance when compared with the former apartheid state. Nigeria has all the characteristics of a poor Third World country – high unemployment, high levels of underemployment, gender inequality, extreme levels of poverty, and so on.

In addition, traditional customs continue to inflict violence on women. In regions of Nigeria, ethnic killings are frequent occurrences. Just this week, clashes between the Fulani and Dogon tribes have left dozens of people dead. As a result of these and other factors, Nigerians today form a large percentage of the migrants fleeing across the Mediterranean Sea to Europe to escape chaos and poverty.

Nigerian writer Okey Ndibe, a fierce critique of the Nigerian kleptocracy, writes in an essay: “We are caught in a fundamental crisis that rocks the foundations of the ill-formed organism that is called Nigeria.” He is right. The Nigerian nation-state is bedevilled by crippling self-inflicted flaws and fault lines. One day, we will have to confront the scary question: Is Nigeria a viable entity?

Tee Ngugi is a Nairobi-based commentator.



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Sasa, Dereva? Black-on-black hate in, yes, the hospitality sector

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By ALICE WAIRIMU NDERITU
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Never, in my history of writing for The EastAfrican, has my inbox been as full as it is now with feedback to the articles, If you’re black, stand back – discrimination and hospitality and Hospitality industry – our society has stopped respecting elders. From the many, I requested the permission of Trevor Sawyer and Martin Baraza to share their feedback.

Trevor recalls arriving at a Mombasa beach hotel gate as a group of engineers, four white and one a black Kenyan. A friendly security guard enthusiastically greeted the Kenyan engineer, telling him, “Hello driver, I see you have brought my guests back safely.” The vehicle roared with laughter, and the engineers left the guard none the wiser. Till today, they fondly tease their “driver” colleague about the incident.

Martin, a dual citizenship Kenyan who previously worked in the hospitality industry in Kenya, said, “I understood what you meant in the articles. I felt so bad and worthless seeing colleagues, especially those serving at restaurants, bars and swimming pool areas, prioritise serving whites over fellow Africans, regardless of how much they spend. Black people were searched when they tried to access beach hotels and asked what business they had in the hotel.”

Martin had heated debates with colleagues, coming up against a wall of self-prejudice – his black colleagues defended their perceptions that white people were better than them. Martin explains how sad this made him feel, describing it as a sickening “slave mentality.”

In the West, Martin encountered and was shocked by acts of racism: Denial of entry to clubs, job discrimination and white people preferring to stand rather than sit next to him in trams and trains. Blacks dominate cleaning and warehousing jobs. While working in the hospitality industry in which he had a wealth of experience, he was often expected to counter the insinuation of not being smart enough. Martin, whose wife is white, has a five-year-old son who he hopes will live in a more equal world. His wife is his biggest support.

Martin often wishes his former black colleagues had his experience to understand favouring white people in Africa does not guarantee non-discrimination in the West. Martin has met many racists but quite a number who are not. He comes home to Kenya often, and hates seeing blacks discriminating against blacks.

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I called Mohammed Hersi, chairman of the Kenya Tourism Federation, the umbrella body of all tourism organisation including airlines and travel agencies. Mohammed traced the discrimination of blacks against fellow blacks to colonial and postcolonial Africa. “Ethnicist and racist people do not pick up their bad habits at any of the hospitality industry schools. This is not a topic taught there. Most of those who frequented hotels in the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s when the racial and economic divides were much deeper were white. This contributed to the ‘whites give bigger tips’ myth.”

Conversely, Mohammed says, “Sometimes, black people come to restaurants expecting to be discriminated against. A white arrives after a black person and orders a sandwich. The black person has ordered a steak, which takes longer to prepare. The sandwich arrives first – it does look like discrimination yet it is not. Sometimes, some people do not recognise the professional skills of hospitality industry staff. We have waiters with degrees who cannot get jobs elsewhere. Some people treat them not as if they were delivering a professional service but as if they were servants”.

Mohammed’s advice to those in the hospitality industry: “It is better to receive a business card from a client instead of a tip as this builds relationships and working while looking towards an expected tip is not service.”

Trevor suggests rebuilding East African society through re-education to create a culture of equality. This may result in the guard, for example, changing his opinion that a black person driving a car full of white people can only be a driver.

Martin suggests Africans should discuss discrimination consistently. They, he specifies “shouldn’t give fellow Africans preferential treatment, as everyone is charged the same amount of money for their services.” Mohammed provides a challenge, “To create an equal society, could we too as Africans stop referring to people as Mzungu and Mhindi – which really, is derogatory?” Food for thought.

Wairimu Nderitu is the author of Beyond Ethnicism: and Kenya: Bridging Ethnic Divides. E-mail:  [email protected]



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Some people are paid not to understand, no matter the facts

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By SUNNY BINDRA
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Do you sometimes wonder why a perfectly reasonable position is often rejected by very intelligent people?

You might lay an argument out, back it up with solid facts — and still encounter vehement opposition.

Surprisingly, this resistance often comes not from the ignorant or the uneducated, but from those who have the knowledge and acuity to appreciate the point being made.

The first thing to remember is that most people argue from their gut, not their brain. They imbibe prejudice early in life, and harden their outlook accordingly.

Much of what ensues thereafter is just a relentless train stuck on the steel tracks of confirmation bias.

New facts and new arguments encountered en route do not open new thinking. The offensive ones are ignored; those that support pre-set ideas are filtered out to reconfirm what is already believed.

That aside, there is another very strong reason why reasonable people can take on unreasonable positions. It was expressed best by Pulitzer-Prize-winning author Upton Sinclair: ‘It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it.’

This concerns the power of incentives. When people oppose reasonable arguments vigorously, it behoves us to look carefully at where their reward comes from.

John Bogle, he who revolutionised the investment industry, often picked up on Sinclair’s words.

He pointed out that the people who give you personal investment advice often make a lot of money for themselves — at your expense.

Most small investors are unaware of the heavy cost of the fees that managed investments impose.

And it is not in the interests of those selling you the products to point this out — they make their money by charging you more than you need to pay, and hoping for your ignorance.

The life lesson is this: keep a very careful eye on the incentives of those you have to work with. It will help you understand what ensues.

For example, the key incentive of a government minister is to defend the government of the day.

You can marshal all the arguments you want about a policy change; those who are paid to defend the existing policy will do so with gusto, even with anger.

Their resistance will only change when the incentives change, or when the paymaster whistles a different tune.

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Similarly, you might be perplexed when a pundit or intellectual you respect suddenly espouses surprisingly pig-headed views. Don’t be. You probably need to look no further than the fact that incentives have changed.

I have pointed out another example here before: there are those who believe Africa is currently the best investment destination ever; that everything is positive and vibrant; that governments are progressive and transparent; that policy is enlightened and supportive; that the middle class’s purchasing power is exploding.

Sitting right next to these people is another group, equally educated, who will tell you that it’s all gloom and doom; that de facto dictatorships abound; that an economic reckoning is coming.

You know what to do now. Look for the paymasters and payoffs on both sides. They explain a lot. Many intellectuals are paid not to understand.

You are better off looking through the maze of incentives to gather your own understanding of the situation.

This is not to say that everyone is equally affected by pecuniary incentives. Some people, though rare, respond to a higher set of incentives.

Their reward comes from doing what is right — even though that may cost them greatly in financial terms. These are the folks whose opinions I personally give the greatest part of my attention.

Look out for those who refuse to take high-paying positions if their fundamental principles are in discord with the work on offer.

Look out for those who refuse high-paying assignments from clients whose morals are in doubt.

Look out for those who resign if their values are offended. Look out for those who tell you not to buy from them, because you will do better elsewhere.

You won’t find many such people. When you do, take note. You will find that they dance to a higher-order music.

Their sense of achievement and meaning is not confined to the cage of personal payoffs. They are here to play bigger, even if fortunes are forsaken in the process. Perhaps you can find such a person in the mirror someday.

Sunny Bindra’s new book, The Bigger Deal, is now on sale. www.sunwords.com





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