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The biting shortages of professionals in the NEP

By Mohamed Haji

In the recent past there has been hue and cry over the shortage of teachers and health professionals in the NEP after many non-local professionals working in the region left. The teachers and other professionals were said to have left as a result of the Garissa and Mandera grisly terror attacks. Schools have either closed or making-do with O level graduates to fill in the positions left by the professionals.

Hospitals are on the brink of closure and while the private clinics may be doing brisk business, majority of patients are languishing in endless queues and long waiting-list for the attention of the few health professionals in a region renown for the dearth of health and other essential services. This is just the tip of the ice-berg. Even if the various security measures the government is putting in place are successful and end up addressing some of these problems, it can only dent the already sorry state of available services in the health and education sectors. If the measures come a cropper then we should expect Armageddon.

The apocalypse that follows will be anyone’s guess. The shocking reality is, the county and national governments are neither hoping for the best nor prepared for the worst. Our children who are to sit for KCPE and KCSE examinations are not learning because there are no teachers in the classes and are not getting help to prepare for the national examinations despite the expected apocalypse.

No one is serious about their future examination results. Governments of all levels are burying their heads in the sand and no special measures are been put in place for such uncertain times. The prevailing pickle is one where NEP students’ talents never tallies with their national grades. I hardly remember a year where students from the region were not under-marked in the national exams, many results cancelled on flimsy fictitious claims and many awarded Ys. This sorry state of affairs by the examination body, KNEC, has been going on unabated for decades. No one seriously takes this examination body and other government agencies to task. This is adding insults to the already injurious predicament of local talent. It is disenfranchising the youth even more and killing aspiration.

We cannot improve the quality and quantity of education, health and other essential sectors in the region if this is not urgently addressed. Closely observed the few C+ graduates from the region are shepherded into non-essential degree courses and the very few who are god fathered into medical and other courses are the sons and daughters of elites already living in Nairobi and other urban centers. Their likelihood of ever going back to rural north is zilch. Raising the numbers of local professionals in the region therefore remains a distant dream.

Few sticking plaster solutions have been bandied around and none appears to have worked. From the reactionary call for the devolution of the education sector to the less viable solution of employing form four graduates as replacement of experienced teachers. Health is a devolved function and while few challenges may have been tackled, its devolution has not and will not address the dangerous shortage of professionals overnight and therefore devolving education while welcome should not be sold to the masses as a panacea to the huge problem. It may be kicking the can of worms into the long grass.

Desperate situations call for drastic measures. While we whinge and whine about the dearth of professionals in front line sectors such as health and education, we have no qualm recruiting and poaching professionals from the same sectors only to employ them at a back-office where they are less productive. These are jobs that could have been done by others who are languishing in poverty and joblessness. Those doing the recruiting are alert to the situation on the ground, are the very leaders who whine about the prevailing professionals’ shortages and bestowed with the powers and privileges to provide solutions for such biting problems. We are initiating and encouraging internal brain drain by poaching professionals from essential service providers and blame national government that is and has never been on our side.

We have ended up in a situation where our classrooms have no teachers but our county boardrooms are beaming with experienced educationists, where our hospitals cannot attend to the health needs of our populations but our county executives are health professionals, our private clinics manned by those drawing salaries from the county coffers and non-government organizations are hell-bent on poaching professionals from such essential service sectors. Why would one recruit a medical officer of health as a county executive or in any such position when the hospitals have no doctors? Why would one recruit experienced educationists as board members when our classrooms have no teachers and our children are staring at a catastrophic national examination results?

We require urgent measures, local solutions to our local problems that shall address this ballooning problem. County governments must desist from depleting an already struggling sector of professionals, our trainees must sign a contract where they are obliged to give certain number of years of services before they can venture into other fields and the salaries and welfare of essential front line staff urgently looked into. In the short term county governments must release the professionals back to class and hospitals or compel them to partake in the teaching and treatment of the people by expanding their work requirement.

The welfare of front line staff such as nurses, doctors and teachers must be urgently looked into. While education is still not a devolved function the county governments should look into various ways it can allocate funds to remunerate teachers handsomely to stem the drain and encourage them to stay on course through schemes such as scholarships after some years of service. Current teacher-students ratio is unsustainable and we ought to employ our best graduates into teaching if we want to compete with the best. We need to incentivize our best graduates into teaching by devising attractive schemes not only to put glory back into teaching but also make the best subject experts available in our schools.

In the meantime our current KCPE and KCSE graduates cannot be expected to sit for the same national examination with the rest as learning has been disrupted and teachers are not in schools. It will not be fair on those in public schools. The education ministry must be compelled to put in place special measures that will fairly and legally address their predicament.

Mr. Haji is a social commentator and Nepjournal contributor. Follow him on twitter

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