Nairobi — Kenya teachers earn much more than their counterparts in East Africa, a new study shows.
But teachers in the region earn less than other professionals - in public and private sectors - with same or comparable qualifications and level of experience.
Most disturbing is a revelation that all countries that participated in the survey conducted by a consortium of education non-governmental organisations described the teachers' morale as low.
The study, done last month in Gambia, Kenya, Lesotho, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia, attributed this to low salaries and poor working conditions, including lack of incentives like accommodation.
As a result, graduates are choosing teaching as a last resort or a stepping stone to better-paying jobs.
According to the study, primary school teachers earn a gross salary of about Sh10,184, compared to Sh1,340 and Sh7,705 for their Tanzania and Uganda counterparts respectively.
While low-ranked secondary school teachers in Kenya earn between Sh18,224 and Sh20,435, those in the neighbouring countries draw less than half the amount.
In Uganda, the teachers get a monthly pay of between Sh7,638 and Sh17,420, while teachers in Tanzania get from Sh6,298 to Sh8,375.
Kenya is one of the countries with the highest number of qualified pre-primary school teachers in the region, though most of them are jobless.
And although there are 40,000 qualified teachers, many schools are understaffed.
Despite a surge in primary school enrolment due to the introduction of free primary education in 2003, there has been no increase in teacher stock since 1999.
Recruitment was stopped due to what the Ministry of Education called "pressure from donors".
Morale affecting quality
The report recommends that governments increase salaries in line with the cost of living and above the poverty datum line.
Education employees' general conditions of service should also be improved. This could include payment of allowances and other fringe benefits.
In addition, efforts should be made to make teaching profession attractive.
The report titled 'Teacher Supply, Recruitment and Retention in Six Anglophone sub-Saharan African Countries' says governments should regularise paydays and paying authorities should adhere to them.
"Since most salary delays seem to occur where payment is done through local authorities, governments may consider centralising the payment. This may be done electronically through the banks," adds the Education International report.
Further, authorities should ensure there is a clear career path for teachers and other education employees.
The survey aimed at establishing how the welfare and status of teachers could be improved through their human and trade union rights.
It focused on teacher supply, attrition, remuneration and motivation, absenteeism and union involvement in policy development.
Findings indicate that Uganda and Tanzania have a serious shortage of qualified teachers, with the situation particularly critical at pre-primary level.
In some countries, there are large differentials between the salaries for primary and secondary school teachers and principals.
Teacher unions in the six countries lamented the declining status of the profession, which has forced teachers to pursue other income-generating activities at the expense of their jobs.
As a result, standards of education are falling: "The net effect of moonlighting is that it usually leaves teachers exhausted and with little time to prepare for lessons. Hence, the quality of education suffers."
The report calls upon unions to oppose the recruitment of unqualified teachers. Instead, they should lobby for pre-service and in-service training for unqualified and under-qualified teachers.
Governments should also recruit more teachers to meet the Education for All targets and related Millennium Development Goals.
"This may call for the raising of a country's teacher stock in line with enrolment trends, with a view to keeping the pupil-teacher ratios in line with international norms and standards," urges the report.
It calls on governments to avoid setting unrealistic targets or wage bill caps in their agreements with regional or international financial institutions.
The fast track initiative norm that teachers' salaries be 3.5 times GDP per capita, given in the Education for All Indicative Framework, should not be a barrier to increasing salaries as it is a mere guide, adds the report.
An analysis of the data indicates that there is no single cause of teacher attrition in the countries visited.
For example, in Kenya, the main cause of attrition is retirement. Most primary school teachers remain in the profession until they retire.
The unions should also scale up HIV/Aids education and support programmes for members and students to reduce the impact of the disease in the education sector.
Teacher unions should also spearhead the establishment or improvement of collective bargaining structures. "Collective bargaining structures should be grounded in International Labour Organisation conventions and conform with international labour standards," it says.
The report further urges trade unions to maintain a fair balance between union and professional roles.
"Such a balance means teacher trade unions should fight, not only for bread and butter issues, but also for access to quality publicly funded education for all," says the survey.
It calls for the unions to collaborate with United Nations agencies like Unesco, Unicef, World Bank in promoting quality public education for all.
Governments, the report adds, should consult unions on educational, labour and other relevant issues.
Such institutionalised dialogue enriches educational policies and ensures ownership on the part of the union, says the report.