Saturday, 3 October 2015

Saturday, October 3, 2015 Teachers’ strike will hurt beyond the class days lost

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Knut Secretary-General Wilson Sossion at a past
Knut Secretary-General Wilson Sossion at a past event. He announced on October 3, 2015 that teachers have called off their strike and will resume work on October 5, 2015. FILE PHOTO | NATION MEDIA GROUP

While the adverse impact of the month-long crippling teachers’ strike is obvious in interruption to the school calendar, it is the intensive hopelessness that it has now brought to the examination candidates that is worrying.
This is chiefly because our education system emphases grades, which places increased pressure on pupils’ stress levels. Even teachers’ performance and promotions are now being determined by grades.
Yet we all know that grades are a thin representation of levels of attainment.
It is a scare of a lifetime for the young ones not knowing what is going to happen next, or even whether what they have learned for eight years and four years respectively shall bear any fruit.
In the absence of teachers, children can no longer trust anyone and what they hear. Their parents are not any better, for many do not know how to handle the situation.
If you ask me, the young boys and girls have not been mentally prepared. As examinations approach, it is normal for students to get anxious, and this anxiety could hurt their performance. Anxiety leads to panic and feelings of inadequacy.
Teachers play a big role in preparing the candidates mentally for examinations. It is all psychological: Who will supervise their examinations, leave alone mark them?
The teachers’ strike has had a multitude of other effects, including creating major challenges to parents taking care of their children at home.
But the more often cited impact in the crusade against any teachers’ right to strike is on student learning. The logic here is simple: Students cannot learn if they are not in school.
In fact the government has been arguing against the teachers’ right to strike, saying it infringes on children’s right to learn. Perhaps, that is why the government decided that the examination candidates would remain in school.
But then, what is school without teachers? Who is preparing the candidates?
Generally, the most straightforward impact of any teacher strike is the withdrawal of educational services during the period that the strike is on.
Unless this time is made up for, for example by extending the school term, students lose a corresponding number of days of teaching.
However, this only applies if teachers and students make a clean break before a strike begins and then pick up smoothly at the same place after the strike ends.
But this scenario is misleading. First, many of the teachers’ strikes in Kenya and elsewhere in the world take weeks. So, just as students take a while to adjust after a school break, we might expect the same to be true after a strike.
Second, curriculums are presumably designed to accommodate holidays. Difficult concepts are not left hanging over a break.
In contrast, strikes are not anticipated in curriculums, and so extensive review of material may be required to get students back up to speed after a work interruption. This, however, realistically, never happens. The student loses.
Third, strikes, like the current one, sometimes interact with holidays to result in an extended period away from school for the students. The current strike is close to the December holidays and end of the school year, significantly reducing the period of sustained teaching. Even if it is resolved and the students get back to class, there can never be any realistic teaching to cover for lost time.
This means that though we may not quantify the time lost during the strike, obviously, the actual amount might exceed the number of days of the actual work stoppage.
There is one sure thing about the current teachers’ strike.  If it ends up hurting student performance in the examinations, it could affect their lives for years into the future.

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