A stretched and demoralised staff and societal stigma attached to adult learning are contributors to the dwindling number of candidates enrolling in the Adult and Continuing Education (ACE) learning programme.
So serious is the situation that the county risks retrogressing to illiteracy levels worse than those of 2007.
County ACE Director Mr. Chris Mokaya says while the lean staff under his command is doing all it can to keep everything running, the sustainability of the programme will require more resources and an all-out approach by both the national and county governments.
This year, the county has registered a total of 73 adult learners for the ongoing Kenya Certificate of Primary Education (KCPE) and a further 661 candidates for the Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education (KCSE).
Among the adult learners sitting for this year’s KCPE exams are 19 male inmates who are serving various custodial sentences at the King’ong’o Maximum Prison.
“In Nyeri, there is a very low level of enrolment due to the stigma associated with adult learning. People don’t want to say that they are illiterate. People don’t want to say they didn’t go to school or dropped out of school at this level. We need to start creating awareness, but our hands are tied because creating awareness requires resources. People need to know what we do, but we have not achieved that. So enrolment is very low, and that is why the illiteracy level remains. Perhaps it has even gone higher than it was in 2007,” he said.
According to the 2007 Kenya National Adult Literacy Level, the minimum mastery level in literacy in Nyeri stood at 76 per cent, against a national average of 66 per cent.
In terms of a demoralised staff, Mokaya says there are only 15 permanent teachers and an additional 55 part-time instructors working in the eight sub-counties with limited or no resources.
He says enthusiasm among part-time instructors is at an all-time low due to poor remuneration and a lack of clarity about the fate of their careers, forcing many of them to concentrate on other income-generating activities.
A part-time instructor is paid a Sh2,000 monthly stipend and is required to work for two to three hours every week.
But Mokaya says the challenge of staffing is not only confined to the part-time staff but even to the permanent staff, many of whom are leaving the staff without any replacement.
So serious is the situation that the official has now been forced to do the office paperwork after his secretary retired last month without any replacement.
“I have a very nice office here, but I closed one of the rooms after my secretary retired last month. We used to have a clerk, secretary, driver, and deputy in the past, but right now we have closed all their offices since they have all retired. I fear that very soon I will be left alone. Our teachers are paid Sh. 2,000 per month—a token at that. I think that kills their morale, and sometimes just to follow up with them and know what is happening becomes a challenge because of lack of transport,” he pointed out.
This year has also seen female candidates overtake their male counterparts in the number of candidates who have registered to sit for the KCSE exams.
Out of 661 candidates who are expected to write the exams, only 135 are men, with many of those currently serving in pastoral work having been forced to go back to class by their superiors to secure a post-primary certificate.
The county official has attributed the disparity to male chauvinism and pressure on men to pursue activities that will enable them to fend for their families.
“There is also gender disparity, with a low enrolment of males compared to females. The reason why this disparity is being felt is male chauvinism, and we find that the number of men enrolling in our classes is very low compared to women. The girl child had also been neglected, and they are now coming out forcefully to learn,” he added.
In March last year, retired Nyeri ACE Samuel Ndurumo warned that the department could soon face a severe shortage in terms of tutors, posing a challenge to government efforts to promote literacy levels among adult learners.
Ndurumo had noted that the number of staff exiting the service without being replaced was an issue the state needed to take into consideration to guarantee the continuity of the programme.
He had disclosed that for more than a decade, no single instructor had been posted to the county, leaving the department to put up with a stretched staff of 55 part-time teachers.
He warned that gains that the programme had achieved in addressing literacy levels among adult learners might soon be eroded unless urgent measures were put in place to recruit additional teachers to replace those who had left the service.
“We have a serious shortfall in staff establishment in this department, which needs serious attention. Instructors have been exiting the service without being replaced, and this leaves us in a precarious situation when it comes to attending to the available learners,’’ he said.
“Currently, we are facing another exit of some 20 teachers who are set to retire, leaving no one to replace them,” he told the press.
Despite Nyeri having a high literacy level estimated at 80 per cent, it has been recording dwindling numbers of adult learners since 2010.
The goals and objectives of ACE include the provision of literacy and adult education for youth and adults who miss out on formal education programmes, providing survival skills, promoting individual development and fulfilment, and bridging the illiteracy gap between men and women.
Enrollment in adult education has been characterised by a decline over the past few years compared to the late 1970s and 1980s.
The decline has been attributed to low funding, a negative attitude towards the programme, an unsuitable curriculum that does not respond to the needs of the learners, and a shortage of teachers.