Lydia Nzomo – Influencing through imparting knowledge

Dr. Lydia Nzomo is the current chairperson of the Teachers Service Commission (TSC), a position she has held since December 2014. Prior to that, she was the director of the Kenya Institute of Curriculum Development (KICD) – formerly Kenya Institute of Education (KIE). The career educationist is passionate about education and curriculum
and her entire work life has been dedicated to shaping Kenya’s education sector.

Dr Lydia Nzomo’s journey in the education sector has been lifelong. “I have known nothing else in life except for education. I choose that career from a conviction in the belief of sharing knowledge. When I was young I enjoyed learning new things from the teachers. I wanted to share the same experience to learners through teaching.” As a young girl, Nzomo had faith in her father’s vision of taking her to school. “I believed that what he wanted for me was the best. He himself had not gone beyond standard four, but he knew that education is good.”

She started school at an early age. “My father took me to school before I was six. There was no nursery school then. The teacher came to interview me from home and asked me to count my fingers. I counted up to 10 and he said I was ready.” Born and raised in Tigania, Meru County, Nzomo defined the odds as the only girl in the area who attended school at such an early age. “I managed to go through primary school very much younger than other girls. Many of my female school mates also dropped out early due to societal demands such as early marriage.” She forged on despite the adversities. “A major challenge then was the distance to school. We went through many bushy areas and feared wild animals.”

Nzomo finished standard seven and went on to complete form four. She wanted to train as a teacher after form four, but her father encouraged her to pursue form five and six. “I had a challenge with my mother as she was keen to have me get married after form four since my age mates were already married. She had become the laughing stock as fellow women claimed she would die before seeing her grandchildren.” Her mother, however, came to accept that she would not fit the mould. Never one to shy away from education, Nzomo completed her A levels then pursued a yearlong training course for teachers, after which university was a no brainer. She undertook her first degree – a Bachelor of Education – from University of Nairobi, then began her career in teaching. Despite having earned a degree in the field, she found that she faced limitations. “I encountered instances where teachers and learners did not understand each other. I felt that teachers needed to understand that learners are not empty bottles that you fill with water.”

Nzomo later undertook a Masters in Counselling Psychology from United States International University (USIU). “I wanted to gain skills I could use to help teachers deal with different kinds of learners as there are no two individuals who are the same.” Out of this degree she says that she was able to learn how to handle all pupils including those who don’t follow school rules or the general norms of learning institutions. Nzomo’s latest degree is a PhD in Educational Psychology from Kenyatta University. She explains that while her degrees may not appear very similar, they blend well with each other because they relate to learners, teachers, their behaviours and the management of both.

Married to the late Dr. Ambrose Nzomo, she began her career as a secondary school teacher in 1974. She moved a lot teaching in various high schools because her husband was then a field officer and she had to move with him when he got transferred. “A married lady was not given house allowance during those days, so you had to follow your husband wherever he went. To be able to house yourself or get a transfer, you needed your husband’s written permission which was part of Teachers Service Commission (TSC)’s code of regulation” This was a clause that Nzomo ensured was deleted from TSC regulations when she later joined the Commission’s Secretariat. “One is employed as an individual. When you feel you need a transfer you should be able to move.” She joined TSC’s Secretariat in 1981, shifting her focus from teaching to staffing. For 23 years, she steadily rose through the ranks starting off as a staffing officer, senior staffing officer, chief staffing officer, principal staffing officer and finally as the deputy commission secretary. “I concentrated on issues affecting teachers. Having been a teacher myself, I knew the challenges they faced.” She especially had a passion for female teachers and their constraints. “I found that the challenges women faced at home also affected their work. Such cases need a lot of understanding.”

It is therefore befitting that one of Nzomo’s proudest accomplishments is the ratification of ‘Maternity Protection at work’ by Kenya alongside many other countries. “When I was having my children, maternity leave for teachers was just a month, which is not enough. 90 days go a long way.” Nzomo chaired the group that represented Africa during the 2000 International Labour Organization (ILO) convention on Maternity Protection at Work. I am proud of the work we did and the speech I made, which was moving.” A vote was carried out on the longstanding issue which had been discussed for decades, and it led to the extension of maternity leave to 90 days and the provision of 15 days paternity leave.

In 2004, Nzomo joined the Kenya Institute of Education (KIE). On joining the Institute, she found that it had challenges with its legal framework because it was established under the Education Act with its functions defined in legal notices. “Due to a 1984 legal notice, the power of recruiting staff was removed from the Institute leading to a lack of quality employees,” Nzomo says. She set out to bring the necessary change that was needed for the institution to thrive.

“We created permanent posts for researchers, media specialists and curriculum developers. We established this through the system set by the Ministry of State and Public Service.” Other positions required for an organisation to function well were also established including dockets such as; corporate communications and planning. All employees were put under the same employer – the Institute – which enabled unity through similar contracts and benefits.

Under her leadership as Chief Executive Officer/Director, KIE transformed to the Kenya Institute of Curriculum Development KICD in 2013. The enactment of the KICD Act is yet another one of Nzomo’s proudest accomplishments. The Institute’s mandate is to conduct educational research and curricua for all education levels below university. Among her many achievements while at KICD is also the reintroduction of electronic curriculum materials including radio and television lessons. “These were active in the 1960’s but were switched off sometime in 1995. I ensured they were returned because I was able to experience their benefits during my time in school.” She initiated talks between Communications Commission of Kenya (CCK) now the Communications Authority of Kenya and the Kenya Broadcasting Corporation (KBC) to return radio lessons on air for the benefit of all Kenyan children. “To widen the reach of the radio lessons we put all the episodes in CD format.” The Institute also got a TV channel, edu channel, which was launched in March 2010. Nzomo’s tenure also saw the commencement of the development of digital content for the Digital Literacy Programme (DLP).

I found that the challenges women faced at home also affected their work. Such cases need a lot of understanding.
As a trailblazing woman who has greatly influenced Kenya’s education sector, she admits that she has encountered her fair share of constrains. “Women face more challenges because we live in a patriarchal society.” Reflecting on
her own journey, she shares that for a woman to succeed, she needs to work three times as hard as a man in the same position. Finding work life balance is another challenge Nzomo faced, but through seeking God’s divine intervention, she is happy with what she has achieved in both her career and family life. She urges girls and women to know what
they want in life, so as to ensure they are not derailed.

At the time of this interview in May 2013, Nzomo was still at the helm of KICD. In October 2014, President Uhuru Kenyatta nominated her as the chairperson of TSC. After successful vetting by the National Assembly, she took oath of office on 9th December 2014 for a six-year term. Indeed, after many years of bringing positive change to the
education sector, Nzomo came full circle through the appointment that saw her at the head of the Commission that she had previously served diligently for more than two decades.

An area of focus that Nzomo would like to explore in the future is the educational aspect of parenting. “There are currently no systems that teach parents how to raise children. In the past, prospective parents went through traditional coaching before they got children, unlike today where there are no pre-planned lessons for parenting.”
For leisure, Nzomo enjoys going to the gym. She also takes up various community service projects and likes travelling and learning about different cultures and customs. Growing trees and flowers also gives her a sense of satisfaction. “You get to see the miracle of life through the growth of plants and animals.”

Words of Wisdom

“God always has a purpose for everybody. In each and everyone of us there is always something to achieve.”

“The quality of education dictates the standards of a country.”

“Always seek God’s divine intervention to get you through tough times.”

“Career women should ensure they have time dedicated for their families.”

“Education and technology are key to Kenya becoming a first world country.”

“Basic education equips a person with better life skills.”

Idealy, Nzomo’s day begins at 4.30 a.m. She does her morning exercises and prepares for the day and arrives the office by 6.30 a.m. She starts her day at work by looking through the paper work on her desk and checking her email. Since she arrives early her staff also report early. This gives her and her employees ample time to consult before the day begins. Indeed the early bird catches the worm as our interview with Nzomo was conducted at 7 a.m. Most of her days are unpredictable with consecutive meetings on most days till evening.

With a hectic work schedule, Nzomo is glad that when her children were younger she had fewer responsibilities in the office. She was therefore able to be home by 6 p.m. to ensure that they were bathed and had done their homework.

Her motivation comes from the joy of achievement. “I feel fulfilled when I have pushed an agenda and achieved the results” She also has a passion for service, and this is what has kept her ticking in her quest to improve the quality of education in Kenya.

Share this post

Comment on post

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *