Primary school teachers in Kenya are back in the classroom after a week-long strike. The deal was brokered after the government agreed to employ 18,000 teachers on temporary contracts on a permanent basis. It’s a sigh of relief for both parents and the government but a hard decision for teachers who say the state still treats them like trash.
By Kassim Mohamed, Nairobi
Teachers in Kenya are among the lowest paid. Primary school teachers on temporary contracts are paid a monthly salary of €80 while those on permanent contracts take home €140. For many that amount is not sufficient to cover their daily living costs.
Bashir Abdi is a primary school teacher in Rhamu, a small town tucked away on the Kenya-Ethiopia border. He’s among 18,060 teachers who have been working on temporary contracts. This youthful 24-year-old has followed closely talks between the Kenya Union of Teachers (KNUT) and the Ministry of education. His future career prospects are in their hands.
“I think KNUT did a good job. How can we be treated so badly? It seems the Government doesn’t care about our problems - 10,000 Ksh is not enough to buy food let alone to rent a house to live in.”
Public vs Private
Bashir told Radio Netherlands Worldwide that his monthly budget to cover essentials such as food and housing amounts to just over €250 – a deficit of more than €170.
“A two Kilogram packet of sugar is Ksh 340, a two Kilogram packet of maize meal is Ksh 130. Things are very expensive. So what does the government expect us to eat? A hungry teacher can never perform well and that’s why state schools are performing badly compared to private ones,” said Bashir pointing to his worn-out shirt collar.
Schools in Kenya were scheduled to open on Monday last week for the final term of the year but the corridors of the otherwise busy schools remained largely deserted. There are 18,000 public schools that accommodate over 8.5 million students. During this time 8,600 public schools were operational with 1.5 million students unaffected by the strike.
This new deal brokered between the Kenya National Union of Teachers and the government will see primary school classrooms full to the bream but the Kenya Union of Post-Primary Education Teachers (KUPPET) is yet to end the strike officially.
The strike has come at a bad time for students due to sit the Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education exams. A week without teaching means that many students may not have covered the full syllabus. Adan Bishar is a student in his fourth year. He believes teachers have a valid reason to strike and their needs should be met.
“Teachers train doctors, engineers, lawyers and even politicians. Why shouldn’t they be given good money? I think our government should prioritise the plight of our teachers and treat them with dignity.”
According to MPs attending talks over the country’s budget, money set aside to hire more teachers has gone towards military pay rises instead.
Education Minister Professor Sam Ongeri called on teachers to be considerate in their approach. “This is not the time to flex muscles; it’s time to really be mindful of those seating for their exams.”
Under the new deal, the Government agreed to employ all the 18,000 contract teachers on permanent basis and a further 5,000 in January on the same terms.
“We have made demands clear and the employer has met most of them,” said Knut secretary general David Okuta.
For now, the cloud of anxiety maybe over, but unless teaching salaries are made a priority, teachers in Kenya may never be happy.
The first of a two part series about schools in Africa. Part two will be published on September 15, 2011.