As she leaves Jogoo House, the seat of Kenya’s Education sector, to Kencom House, the home of Sports, Ms Amina Mohamed will look back at a tumultuous year in which she seemed to lurch from one crisis to another.
Ms Mohamed, who served as President Uhuru Kenyatta’s first Cabinet Secretary (CS) for Foreign Affairs, serving from 2013 to 2018, carved out a respectable career in the world of international organisations such as the World Trade Organisation, Unep, the International Organisation for Maritime among others.
Essentially, Ms Mohamed is a career ambassador whose diplomatic skills, especially with regard to conflict resolution, sadly came up short at Jogoo House, where she replaced the ruthless, assertive and even undiplomatic Fred Matiang’i. The current Interior CS was mostly credited with ending cheating in national examinations in a single-minded and decisive onslaught on cartels who had, in the last decade, made the examinations a cash cow.
Ms Mohamed sparked outrage last December when she told a Senate sitting that the 2-6-3-3-3 education curriculum would not be rolled out this year as earlier planned because the ministry was not ready for it. Her declaration caused panic and protests from parents, publishers and the curriculum developers and trainers who had made huge investments in the programme.
The ensuing groundswell of protests and disbelief among education stakeholders made the chastened minister to make an about-turn and announce that the curriculum plans would go as earlier planned.
Perhaps because her predecessor at Jogoo House was imperious and decisive, stoking fear and measured respect from education officials and teachers who had labelled him the eternal micro-manager aka John Magufuli, Ms Mohammed struggled to stamp her authority in the education sector.
Her decision at the beginning of the year to lower entry qualifications into Teacher Training Colleges for trainees from marginalised areas, prompted acrimony from the Teachers Service Commission (TSC), which opposed the move and sought the advice of the Attorney General (AG) Paul Kihara.
The CS had lowered the entry grades from C to D+ for certificate courses and from C+ to C- for diplomas in 17 marginalised counties. An unusually bold TSC, with the Kenya Union of Post Primary Education Teachers rallying behind it, insisted that teacher qualifications were its exclusive mandate and that it would not recognise graduate trainees enrolled with the lower grades. The AG overruled the minister. The dispute was resolved on Tuesday when the ministry withdrew the decree.
The TSC is not the only institution to have differed with the minister openly. The University of Nairobi last month rejected her attempt to impose three deputy vice chancellors who it said had not passed the test. The minister had substituted three of the names recommended by the council with others who apparently had not fared well in the interview process. The University Council rejected the names and sought the advice of the AG. The matter has not been resolved.
Like an annoying shadow, controversy followed her almost relentlessly and she found her hands forever full with crises. Last month, head teachers rose up in arms against what they called the oversupply of textbooks to schools, saying they were grappling with thousands of books they did not need.
However, despite her perceived weaknesses, Ms Mohamed must be given credit for keeping the momentum on the war against exams cheating. She also showed her motherly and kind nature by fighting teenage pregnancies. She said the government is working on a policy to fight the menace and that a digital application was in the offing to gather and analyse data on it.
It is also because of the minister’s enthusiastic attention to the 100 per cent transition policy from primary to secondary schools, that more than 90 per cent of last year’s Standard Eight leavers are now in Form One.
Overall, the public will be inclined to sympathise with a woman who found herself learning how to swim in the hostile waters of Jogoo from the deep-end and without a coach or an amateur golfer in a strange course, without a reliable caddie.