As children donned their backpacks and prepared to head back to school for a new term, the Nuru education team prepared to resume outreach efforts; unbeknownst to us the Kenya National Union of Teachers quietly prepared to launch a countrywide strike. September 5th, teachers mounted a strike demanding the government respond to issues of understaffing in schools and the lack of full-time, contract employment. In an article for AfricaNews, a representative of the Kenya National Union of Teachers said, “Treasury says it’s looking for over six billion shillings in a week’s time to solve the teachers standoff. We know the Government has asked for a week to look for money, they should work very fast. Our main aim is to withdraw labour and let it bite.”

The strike affected all public schools across the country and was particularly disruptive to the older students who should be preparing for their Kenya Certificate of Primary Education (KCPE) exams on October 18th and Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education (KCSE) examinations which are scheduled for November. Instead of reviewing the syllabus in preparation for the exams, those students were sitting idly in classrooms.

In our district, many teachers showed up to schools and required pupils to be present, though they refused to teach until the terms of the strike were met. Other teachers did not show up to schools and left students to study on their own. Some teachers tried to stay and teach, but were threatened by lorry loads of teachers who would come in to chase the teachers out of school. Our team stalled all programs so as not to jeopardize our relationships with teachers. The Ministry advised us that running Learning Center programs in our district would be perceived as undermining the potency of the strike and could create tension for our team as well as hostility when schools reopened.

Teachers’ demands for improved student teacher ratios in the classrooms have become more insistent since the introduction of universal free primary school in 2003 and the steady rise in enrollment since. An article in the Washington Post addressed the understaffing issue by saying, “The union wants the government to give full-time jobs to 18,000 teachers hired on temporary contracts and hire an additional 9,040 teachers.” It also said, “Some 79,000 teachers are needed to reach the internationally recommended teacher to student ratio of one teacher to 35 students. Kenya’s public schools see an average of 50 students for every teacher, though some classes have only one teacher for 100 pupils. The union projects a shortfall of 115,000 teachers in the next couple of years as the population increases.”

The issue is compounded by allegations that money intended to alleviate these strains on the education system has been reallocated to defense. The Washinton Post quoted Head of the Kenya National Union for Teachers, Wilson Sossion, as saying, “Parliament had allocated around $53 million for hiring more teachers last week, but the ministry of finance diverted the money to the ministry of defense, even though the ministry had not requested it.” In the article, they also indicated that “’…taxes will have to be increased if the teachers are to be hired,’ said Joseph Kinyua, the permanent secretary at the Ministry of Finance. ‘Spiraling food and fuel prices are already causing great hardship for many Kenyans.’”

A week after the strike was initiated, the government is said to have made a deal with the union to move more than 18,000 contract tutors to permanent positions and hire an additional 5,000 or more permanent teachers in January. According to an article on, “The agreement says the government will come up with a long-term strategy to address the shortage of teachers in the country. It is estimated that there is a shortage of about 75,000 teachers countrywide in public primary and secondary schools. The development of a long-term strategy, together with the employment of nursery school teachers, will be factored in the 2012/13 budget.”

As a result of the resolution brokered on September 9th, teachers will return to schools and we can resume our outreach programs. We hope that in January, the promised teachers will be hired and will help to establish a more manageable student/teacher ratio in the schools. This solution will not be a silver bullet though and we will need to continue our push to strengthen literacy.

During the lull caused by the strike, we were able meet with the local chiefs and secure their support of our plan to scale to two new sub-locations in the coming weeks. They have also committed to rally the elders and help us reach the families that do not send their children to school. Our goal is to work on educating those parents and families on the value of education and encourage them to send their children to the Learning Center to take advantage of programs and tutoring there.

We are also preparing for the upcoming transition of western staff. The education team will welcome in a new fellow next week and after a month of training and transition, she will take over things here on the ground and I will head back to the States to support the program from afar. I will also be transitioning our income generating activity, the dairy farm. In the next post, I’ll fill you in on what the transition entails and provide an introduction to our fellow. I’ll also update you on our progress with the outreach and learning center programs and provide you with some exciting updates about the dairy project. Stay tuned…