Teacher Strike Halts Outreach

Even if you haven’t been paying attention to the news, over the last two weeks, as you walk through the streets of Isibania, you notice that there are many children around, but hardly any in their typical school uniforms. They are at home or playing with friends, but not in school. Why? For the past two weeks all of Kenya’s public, primary and secondary school teachers have been on strike. In fact, a few days into the strike, the university lecturers joined in. The Kenya National Union of Teachers (KNUT) and the Kenya Union of Post Primary Education Teachers (KUPPET) have essentially ceased all instruction in public education institutions in Kenya. Even private schools have joined in the strike out of threats from the public teachers union in some areas.

The reasons for the strike go back to 1997 when teachers were promised pay increases over time, but those increases have not been met nearly 15 years later. Currently the range of a typical Kenyan government teacher salaries and allowances runs from about 15,000ksh/month ($180 U.S. dollars/month) to about 32,000ksh/month ($385 U.S. dollars/month). If you extrapolate that out, the typical Kenya government teacher with a university degree is earning approximately $4,600 per year. Prices of goods in Kenya are rising and the cost of living is going up. Teachers are being asked to teach in schools with few resources and often deal with schools that are understaffed and class sizes ranging from 40 to over 100 students. Couple this with the fact that Kenyan Members of Parliament (MPs) are currently making almost 1,000,000ksh/month ($12,000 U.S. dollars/month), and there is a sense among teachers that they are under-appreciated and underpaid. There have been various calls for dialogue, but so far there has not been much in the way of compromise from either the teacher’s union or government sides. Currently teachers are still being paid during the strike, though the government has threatened to withhold pay making tensions rise even more.

Unfortunately, our outreach program has come to a halt during this time of uncertainty. While students are still available and sometimes even show up to schools, we cannot go into schools and provide services out of fears of being seen as not in solidarity with the teachers on strike. Many of our staff members know local teachers and we are very hesitant to create any sort of tension with the local school officials, as we know that their cooperation and collaboration is a key to our program’s success. Additionally, in the past there has been physical violence directed towards any teachers who choose not to respect the strike. In no way do we want to put any of our staff members in harm’s way.

On a lighter note, we have been able to use this time to continue to train new staff members and refine our process of lesson planning.  It’s been a privilege to witness our Field Managers step up and develop into stronger managers with the addition of our new staff members. In addition, we’ve been able to plan for our Mobile Learning Center that will occur in November and December as well as start to take a look at the Kenyan primary syllabus for public schools to better align our lessons and truly act as a supplement to what’s going on in schools. As a result of the extra time, we’ve also been able to reevaluate how we do things and improve our processes, which will help to improve our program efficiency and effectiveness over the long run.

We hope that the teacher strike will be resolved quickly, so that children can go back to school and we can continue to work with them. While this time is certainly a challenge for our program, I think we are going to emerge from it as more skilled facilitators and more prepared for the coming months.

About Jimmy Leak

Education Program Strategic Advisor — Dr. Jimmy Leak has designed and managed early grades literacy programs in East Africa. While completing his Ph.D. in Education and Policy and Social Context at the University of California, Irvine, he was named a 2011-2012 Public Impact Fellow for his research on teachers and early grades student achievement.

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