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Policy from below: Foregrounding teacher experiences of hardship in remote rural secondary schools in Kenya Open Access


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Type of item
Degree grantor
University of Alberta
Author or creator
Nungu, Musembi
Supervisor and department
da Costa, José (Educational Policy Studies)
Abdi, Ali (Educational Policy Studies)
Shultz, Lynette (Educational Policy Studies)
Examining committee member and department
Goddard, Timothy (University of Prince Edward Island)
Kapoor, Dip (Educational Policy Studies)
Carson, Terrence (Secondary Education)
Department of Educational Policy Studies

Date accepted
Graduation date
Doctor of Philosophy
Degree level
Teacher shortage for schools in remote rural areas (also called hardship areas) in Kenya, as in other parts of the world, is a recurrent problem. Such shortage is problematic as it exacerbates the educational disadvantage of such areas, already disadvantaged with regard to access to schools, availability of teaching and learning resources, and educational outcomes. Various policy interventions meant to attract and retain teachers in the hardship areas have apparently not borne the desired results as teachers have continued to shun postings to schools in such areas. My contention is that the failure to find a lasting solution to the problem is mainly due poor conceptualization, at the policy level, of the notion of “hardship” as it relates to the work of teachers in hardship areas owing to a top-down policy framework whereby the views and experiences of grassroots policy stakeholders are largely absent. This qualitative study, utilizing interviews, document analysis, and researcher observation, entailed a critical interpretive analysis of what constitutes hardship by interrogating the lived experiences of teachers and other grassroots policy players in Makueni district, one of the foremost hardship areas in Kenya. The sample included teachers, school administrators, officials of the two teachers’ unions, and two senior district education officials. All the participants were selected purposely because of their experiences that speak to key understandings of rural hardships that the study sought. The findings showed a marked difference between policy and grassroots understandings of hardship. Key understandings of hardship included remoteness, administrative hardships, weak students, distance from family, and bruised professional pride. Suggested interventions included focused incentives, a holistic conceptualization of hardship, real decentralization, and a participatory policy process. The findings call for an inclusive policy framework, drawing, mainly, on traditional African understandings of community and participative decision-making, as a necessary starting point in the quest for a lasting solution to the recurrent problem of teacher shortage in hardship areas.
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