Teachers and lecturers in Kenya’s primary schools, secondary schools and universities recently went on an over three week long strike. The lecturers and teachers continued to strike despite the government’s threat to dismiss all salaries.
When the teachers’ strike was resolved, the Kenyan Government declared that Kenyans might face higher taxes and cuts in other sectors to finance teacher salaries. One might expect that money that has not yet been allocated to development projects might end up as teacher salaries, leaving other weak sectors behind while the parliamentarians earn more than a teacher does in a year. Is this solution sustainable?
Ending strike is crucial
The teachers’ strike went on for more than three weeks and no successful dialogue was taking place. There was even a tendency towards violent clashes. In 1997 the former education minister, Jospeh Kamotho, promised the teachers of Kenya that their salaries would increase over the years, but up until the strike the salaries have remained at the same level as in 1997.
Will this strike lead to improvements in the educational sector? People from the civil society (namely Twaweza a citizen centred NGO focusing on, among other things, education) are sceptical about the strike. “The claim of 300 percent raised salaries for teachers would be a heavy burden on the general budget of Kenya and the unions lack both a clear strategy and a perceived outcome of the strike”, says Ruth Changwu from Twaweza. But most people agree that there must be changes in the educational sector, “the strike is mainly concerning the citizens in Kenya coming from middle-income or poor families who cannot afford taking their children to private schools”, Ruth continues.
Right to education
John Kinuthia, also from Twaweza, adds that: “The strike is in fact denying children the right to education”, something that is crucial for future development in Kenya. While the strike is denying children the right to education “the school system is not working and our children are not learning”, both Ruth and John agrees. Kenya has a great challenge ahead of improving the educational sector and make children well prepared for future studies and fight illiteracy. Presently the teachers’ salaries are so low that many teachers are forced to take on extra jobs to make a sufficient living. This has led to teachers missing out in classes and that the quality of education is poor. John has been working with school issues for many years in Kenya and concludes that: “Focus in the educational sector has been to finance reconstruction and new school facilities rather than increasing the quality of education.” Ruth adds that to improve quality of education: “Our teachers need incentive salaries.” Regardless of if all students continue on to university or if no one is capable of it, teachers’ salaries are fixed.
This strike is in fact a “response to the great inequalities in Kenya”, says Ruth, and as these inequalities remain they also “bring violent clashes between people which could be better managed if more people were literate and could participate in decision making processes”, she continues. At the moment both the sources and the outcome of the strike are creating a bottleneck for future development in Kenya. Regardless of who is affected, the teachers with below minimum wages or the pupils that lack quality of education, there is time for change. This is not the first time public workers go on strike and without the changes required from the Kenyan Government this is unfortunately not the last. We are currently facing the last years of the Millennium Development Goals focusing among other things on education. Are we as the global community pleased to see that there is free primary schooling in Kenya and facilities for continuous studies or is it time to demand better quality? I think we need to look beyond the first glance of the educational sector. Access to education will not bring Kenya to a middle-income country, nor will development aid do. The Government of Kenya needs to take its responsibility and we as a donor community needs to demand less inequality gaps.