Government politics clashed explosively today with education in Kenya as a court struck down a teachers’ pay raise that had ended a devastating national strike.
Kenya better take a lesson from the U.S.: compromise education and you’ll empower the ignorant. Soon Donald Trump will be running for President of Kenya.
Teachers in Kenya are employees of the federal government rather than state governments as in the U.S. The 5-week long strike which ended in October was therefore nationwide.
The pain of that strike didn’t end with the misery of teachers forfeiting their livelihoods to promote their rights. Kenyan teachers earn 12 times the average national pay, so a huge buying sector of the economy was shut off just as the overall Kenyan economy began to slump.
Ultimately the government agreed to a more than 50% pay increase. The court decision, today, reverses that on the technical grounds that the agency authorizing the increase did so unconstitutionally.
(It’s actually fascinating: the lower Appeals Court effectively reversed a higher Supreme Court ruling. The teachers union is now appealing this lower court ruling back to the higher court. Can’t help but loving this tinkering with government bureaucracy.)
If the pay increase is sustained Kenyan teachers will earn more than 15 times the national average. (In the U.S. a teacher’s salary is almost identical to the national average.)
Why, then, should anyone be worried if Kenyan teachers aren’t awarded this huge increase in pay? …that will stretch even more the disparity between teachers and the common worker in Kenya?
Well, to begin with take a look at the student/teacher ratio. In Kenyan primary schools it’s around 50:1. It’s 25:1 in all of sub-Saharan Africa; the U.N. benchmark is 17:1 and in the U.S. it’s 14:1.
So Kenyan teachers are taking a heavy lift, and this is precisely because overnight a few years ago the country decided to offer free primary education to everybody. (Everyone should watch the amazing movie about this, “First Grader.”)
But statistics like this used cross culturally lose some validity. About the only empirical conclusion evident from this data is that Kenyan teachers are overpaid for working too hard, and U.S. teachers are underpaid for working too little.
I think there’s something important to extract from this.
U.S. institutions of higher learning may be the best in the world. But our primary and secondary schools are a mess, dragged deeper today into our social dustbin by the outrageous licensing of “home” and “community” schooling.
When public education is ignored, as it has been in the U.S. for the last half century, a massive underclass of ignorant people who still benefit from an expanding economy grow more and more powerful.
This underclass pulls down the education system even further: Teachers get paid less, are given fewer resources, perform worse, get paid less still, etc. It’s a spiral into … well, ignorance.
Ignorant people are impressionable and gullible because they aren’t taxed with thinking hard. They’re more likely to jump to conclusions and embrace emotive reactions than question the world. They shoot before looking, because they can’t analyze what they might see.
As the ignorant gain power complex social institutions and infrastructure collapse. You’ve got to be able to think hard to build a bridge or understand welfare or negotiate a nuclear arms deal. Lacking necessary cognitive and intellectual skills the ignorant don’t consider the future as a component of well-being.
The enormous pay difference between an average Kenyan teacher and an average Kenyan worker is definitely cause for concern, but every time Kenyans compromise public education they concede a bit more control of their society and future to the ignorant.
Using the U.S. as the example, that’s not a good idea:
Imagine if when I was a boy I’d heard my parents debating whether they should elect as President Ed Sullivan or Doctor Spock.