I have always suspected that there is some value in employing contract teachers, aka Untrained Teachers (UTs) in schools – both primary and secondary. In my entire primary schooling, I was never taught by any of them. There were enough TSC teachers employed by the schools – yes, 4 primary schools in 8 years – and there was, therefore, no need to supplement their services by employing contract teachers. Those were the good times when teachers were dedicated to their profession, attended all their classes, set exams specific for their subjects and classes, marked and graded pupils based on their performance.
Those were the times when most of the teachers were so gifted you loved going to school. I remember this Music teacher (God rest his soul in peace) who gave us KCPE papers in Music to do while we were in class 7 because he felt he had taught us enough to make us score straight As in the national exam. True to his word, out of the 30 music questions in the Art, Craft & Music paper, the least score was 23! This man was so gifted he needed no text-book going into any class to teach anything – and he taught almost all subjects. But I digress.
Fast-forward to high school and my village harambee secondary school could at times hire these contract teachers to help improve the teacher-student ratio. Most of these contract teachers were undergraduate students from the Kenyan universities on their long holidays. Some had completed their degrees and were waited to be employed either as teachers or other professionals.
While TSC teachers would miss classes as they wished, these contract teachers would never miss a class. They would dedicate all their time and intellectual resources to us. They gave us their all, perhaps because they needed to prove that they never went to university through a fluke or to justify their pay. Whatever reason, it worked.
I could see that we performed better in those subjects that were taught by contract teachers as opposed to those taught by TSC teachers. There was, surely, an improvement on overall performance of most students at the end of the term. We felt bad, always, when these teachers had to leave and go back to their respective colleges.
As a college student, I also had my chance as a contract teacher both in primary and secondary schools. While I am not a teacher at the moment, my former students still remember me for the impact I had on them as their teacher. Together with others, we worked hard, came early to school, left late in the evening, and actually went beyond what was required of us to ensure that our students got the best out of us. The performance, as usual, improved both in the subjects we taught and in the overall student performance.
It did not, therefore, surprise me that a study conducted by Innovations for Poverty Action (IPA) in Kenya titled “School Governance, Teacher Incentives, and Pupil-Teacher Ratios: Experimental Evidence from Kenyan Primary Schools” validated what I have always believed – that contract teachers are key to improvement in performance in schools.
IPA carried out a program under which Kenyan Parent-Teacher Associations (PTAs) at randomly selected schools were funded to hire an additional teacher on a renewable contract, outside normal Ministry of Education civil-service channels, at one-quarter normal compensation levels. The results showed that for students randomly assigned to stay with existing classes, test scores did not increase significantly, despite a reduction in class size from 82 to 44. In contrast, scores increased for students assigned to be taught by locally-hired contract teachers.
The researchers at IPA, Esther Duflo and Michael Kremer explain that one reason for this improvement in results may be that contract teachers had low absence rates, while centrally-hired civil-service teachers in schools randomly assigned PTA contract teachers endogenously reduced their effort. This is true from my observations both as a student and a teacher in both primary and secondary schools. As the authors observed there are large potential dynamic benefits from supplementing a civil service system with locally-hired contract teachers brought in on a probationary basis and granted tenure conditional on performance.
A study by University of California’s Centre for Effective Global Action in India also showed that at the end of a two-year program of providing extra contract teachers to schools, performance of students significantly improved. As was in the case of the Kenyan study, the contract teachers in India were also less likely to be absent than the regular teachers and more likely to engage in active teaching when they were present.
Some may argue that the quality of contract teachers is lower than that of regular teachers. In the study on India, this question was actually central. The findings confirmed that in all estimates, contract teachers were as effective as regular teachers even though they were less qualified and paid much lower salaries.
As it turns out, teacher pay is inconsequential in the scheme of things. Many have argued that teachers need to be ‘motivated’ by ensuring they have a better pay package in order for them to translate this motivation into classrooms. This is not true. In the Indian study, the findings showed that teachers in private schools were paid the same as contract teachers in public schools and their performance matched. This is also true for Kenya as many private primary schools pay much less than what teachers in public primary schools are paid, yet the private schools perform better than the public schools.
The policy implication from this discussion is that the government’s resolution to employ contract teachers is a welcome idea to improve the teacher-student ratio in schools. It is only through reduction of class sizes that performance in public schools will improve and contract teachers provide a channel through which this can be achieved at minimum costs. Parents should also be encouraged to employ contract teachers, especially in primary schools, to supplement the regular teachers.