How Matiang'i restored education sector's lost glory

He came into a sector that had been surrendered to the rankest of profiteers and reclaimed it. He is on every lip in every village and street.

Declared by his social media fans as Kenya’s Magufuli — after the equally no-nonsense President of Tanzania — no minister since the days of John Michuki has captured the imagination of the nation as has Dr Fred Okengo Matiang’i.

Since his being transferred to the education docket last year, he has swept through the sector like a hurricane leaving debris, ashes and a recovering sector in his wake.

Dr Matiang’i reorganised the school calendar and introduced far-reaching changes in the administration of national examinations — moves that led to clean results for the first time in many years.

Not even arson that reduced hundreds of schools to burnt-out shells early in the year could stop this Seventh Day Adventist Church elder.

Away from the exam in which he personally supervised the tests in many centres across the country, Dr Matiang’i also trained his guns on the multi-billion school text book oligarchy, declaring that the government should not ask anyone to buy books from them.

Predictably, he has rattled many profiteers who had lived off the industry since free education was introduced more than 10 years ago.

He has stormed schools incognito and ordered classrooms to be swept as terrified head teachers looked on.

And while his critics have latched on to this to paint him as a man out to have his way by employing terror, rather than motivation, the CS has dismissed such sentiments with the line that principals have not had a dearer friend in him because he engages them at a personal level.

Conversations with officials who work with the former University of Nairobi Linguistics lecturer painted the picture of a workhorse and consummate team player with a knack for spotting talent and seeking expertise broadly before implementing anything.

And once Dr Matiang’i, himself a trained teacher, is convinced, he charges like a rhino.

“See how he was able to bring on board Prof George Magoha, a distinguished surgeon and successful administrator who steered the University of Nairobi for 10 years,” an official who has worked with him for two years said of the Knec chairman who deservedly shares credit with Dr Matiang’i for the exam reforms.

The CS also brought the respected scholar Dr Julius Juan to head the Kenya Institute of Curriculum Development and head-hunted a communication and image team headed by Dr Samuel Siringi, a university don and former newspaperman.

His staff speaks of a meticulous organiser who cannot stop until he has checked something out several times. “We did not sleep on the day before the release of the results. We worked all night at a make-shift secretariat even though we didn’t know he would be releasing results or not,” another adviser said.

He revealed that for any plan Dr Matiang’i puts in
place he has a contingency. I asked the CS on Friday where he gets the energy from.


“I am really just a programme officer implementing what my boss the President, and his deputy, have instructed me to do. And exams are just one of them. We are now moving into enforcing the school fees guidelines,” said the man who previously held research and programme implementation positions with various local and international organisations.

He conceded that breaking textbook and exam cartels has hurt some people, but he had no choice but to restore the integrity of the country’s certificates.

Some analysts were yesterday, however, calling for sustainability to be built into the Matiang’i reforms. They pointed to the inspectorate unit, now called Quality Assurance and Standards Department, which has all but ground to a halt.

Earning less than school principals whom they are meant to supervise, its officials have all but become an extortionist ring and all they do is to enter the principal’s office, pick cash and leave without assessing any teaching.

“The players in the sector need to institutionalise the changes that have been made in managing the 2016 examinations and insulate the sector from the personality syndrome so that if the president reshuffles his cabinet, we are not left in disarray,” cautioned Wesaya Maina, the country director of Discovery Learning Alliance, an international NGO.

“Shall we have a ‘Michuki moment’ where his reforms in the transport sector ground to a halt when he was moved to another ministry?” he posed, referring to the late Cabinet minister John Michuki who brought sanity to the road sector.

His reforms fizzled out after he was moved to Internal Security ministry.

For now, Fred Matiang’i is the Man of Year.

Daily Nation - Saturday December 31, 2016

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