Nairobi — Learning in public schools across Kenya was paralysed last week after teachers made good their threat to go on strike.
Giant umbrella teachers' union, Kenya National Union of Teachers (KNUT), successfully called on up to 200,000 of its members to down their tools to compel government to set aside funds for the recruitment of 28,000 teachers urgently required to plug a huge deficit in staffing countrywide.
The Kenya Union of Post-Primary Education Teachers (Kuppet) on its part called on its over 30,000 members, mainly drawn from secondary schools and colleges, to down their tools as the National Governing Council announced the beginning of their strike last week. Chanting and waving placards, the striking teachers held peaceful demonstrations across the country.
The strike appears indefinite, after the two unions on Thursday rejected a government proposal issued on Wednesday evening to hire 20,000 more teachers on contract this year as a way of reducing shortage of teachers in schools which stand at 83,000 currently.
Earlier on Monday, the teachers had rejected Prime Minister Raila Odinga's request for a week to meet theirdemand. The PM had called a crisis meeting with the teachers in a bid to avert the strike as schools re-open for the third term.
Knut secretary general David Osiany urged the teachers to boycott classes until their grievances are addressed. Osiany appealed to teachers across the country to assemble at Knut branch offices on Mondays and Wednesdays for the peaceful demonstrations, and on Fridays to pray for the country until government addresses the teacher shortage crisis.
"The stage is all set and we have no other option but go on with our strike. We won't take anything else apart from government's compliance to its promise of employing 28, 000 teachers in line with its own policy and Vision 2030," the Knut boss said after a meeting at Knut headquarters in Nairobi.
The dispute is about the conversion of 18,060 teachers employed on contract to permanent and pensionable basis, and the hiring of an additional 10,000 teachers to ease a biting staff shortage in public schools.
Knut has also called on government to employ 23,000 early childhood education teachers.
Osiany said it is unconstitutional and against International Labour Laws for government to employ teachers on contract. The P1 teachers on contracts earn Kshs10, 000 per month, while graduates earn Kshs 15, 000 before tax.
Knut expressed its dissatisfaction with government's efforts at resolving the matter even after it issued a notice of the industrial action. Knut chairman Wilson Sossion accused Parliament of reneging on its promise to allocate funds to employ teachers to meet the shortage of 83,000. Sossion berated Treasury for diverting the Ksh5.6 billion allocated to Teachers Service Commission (TSC) for hiring teachers to pay legislators' tax arrears.
"It is unfortunate that parliamentarians negated on the vote to use the money to pay their taxes." Sossion said the only language government understands is strike and urged teachers to boycott duty until the matter is addressed, adding: "The quality of education has been compromised due to the biting shortage of teachers and the government appears to condone it."
Apart from raising issues on employment, Kuppet also wants government to harmonize teachers' commuter and house allowances with their counterparts in the civil service.