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Margaret Kobia: Little Meru girl who wanted to be a teacher

Truth

Aug. 08, 2019

"I was born in Meru county and grew up in a rural setup that was endowed with family resources,” the CS for Public Service, Gender and Youth Affairs told the Star. In Summary • Kobia is the firstborn in a family of seven children, five daughters and two sons (one deceased). Her father was a policeman and the mother a housewife. • Kobia is the firstborn in a family of seven children, five daughters and two sons (one deceased). Her father was a policeman and the mother a housewife.
A little girl can dream big. Growing up in the green hills of rural Meru in the 1960s, Margaret Kobia was impressed by her female teacher in primary school.
She wanted to be like her one day. It was a dream that has pushed Margaret to the highest echelons of academia and government.
Kobia is the firstborn in a family of seven children, five girls and two boys (one deceased). Her father was a policeman and the mother a housewife.
“In primary school, I had a woman teacher and I kept feeling that I wanted to be like her,” the holder of PhD in Human Resources says.
Although Margaret has been to many places around the world, has had different experiences of life, held various jobs and raised her family of three children, her childhood years in Meru have remained her most powerful source of inspiration.
“I grew mostly with my mother because father was away working in different stations,” she says. Her mother, a devout Methodist now 84 years old, was the best manager the daughter has ever seen.
She managed the family farm, raised the children the best way she could and was committed to the church. She allocated the children chores at home and from that Kobia learnt responsibility.
“My mother valued education, inculcated in us the value of hard work and honesty. If you brought someone’s pencil home she would tell you to return it,” Kobia says.
Even as CS today, she remains the teacher she wanted to be as a little girl. Kobia was last October named the chancellor of St Paul’s University in Limuru.
“I read a lot on research and management and supervise university students. I always have one or two,” says.
“I was born in Meru county and grew up in a rural setup that was endowed with family resources,” the CS for Public Service, Gender and Youth Affairs told the Star.
“I went to a local primary school and at my time education was so much valued. Anyone who went to school became a teacher, nurse or administrator and seemed to enjoy a better quality of life, so our parents kept emphasizing on the need to go to school.”
She passed her primary school exams with flying colours and was admitted to the prestigious Alliance Girls High School in Kiambu.
It was the first time she got out of Meru and what an amazing experience it was. At the national school, Kobia met students from different parts of the country she had only heard of. It was the start of her appreciation of the nation’s cultural mosaic.
But the diversity was not just cultural for the rural girl. Some of the students were children of government ministers, mayors and other big people.
That was during the first decade of Independence and most teachers at Alliance were white.
“Only a quarter of the teachers were African. Some of us who came from rural areas had difficulty understanding the accent of the white teachers who were the majority,” Kobia says.
But that was not all. School food wasn’t exactly like what people ate in Meru. “It was the first time I saw spaghetti. Even sausages I saw them there for the very first time,” Kobia recalls.
With the help of the teachers, whom Kobia describes as dedicated and patient, everything went well. She still wanted to be a teacher. But now she thought she should teach in secondary school.
The years flew by. Kobia passed her Form Four exams and proceeded to do her A Levels in the same school.
She again passed her exams and chose to study education at the University of Nairobi. She joined Kenyatta University, which specialised in teacher training.
Upon graduation, Kobia taught economics, home economics and business at Ngara Girls High School in Nairobi for four years.
But she felt she wanted a bigger challenge. She quit teaching and moved to the Kenya National Examinations Council as a test developer preparing exams. She worked there for two years. But her department required one to have a Master’s degree.
Kobia won a government scholarship to study for a Master’s in teacher education at KU.
After the three-year course, she joined Kenya Science Teachers College, then famous for its diploma teachers but now a constituent college of the UoN.
Kobia returned to KU as assistant registrar. After three years, she started teaching. To advance in the world of academia, she registered for PhD but the programme did not go well for lack of enough supervisors.
KU had linkages with the University of Illinois in the US. Kobia applied and was admitted to undertake her PhD between 2000 and 2003.
“That was one of the hardest decisions I had to make”, she says. Married during her undergraduate days, Kobia had a family to take care of.
Upon return, she joined Strathmore University as a senior lecturer where she taught management and research.
In 2005, Kobia quit Strathmore and was named the first woman CEO of the Kenya Institute of Administration, Kabete, now the Kenya School of Government.
“One of the aspects of Vision 2030 was to transform KIA to Kenya School of Government, which required the review of the curriculum, improving infrastructure and developing staff,” Kobia said.
For the eight years she headed the institution, she spearheaded major transformations. “When I went there, I found only one person with a PhD and by the time I left they were about 80,” she says.
But Kobia was not fully settled. In 2012, the Public Service Commission needed a new chairperson. Encouraged by her friends in and outside government, Kobia applied for the post and got it.
She headed the PSC for five years until President Uhuru Kenyatta appointment her CS last year.
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