Parents suffer more when teachers strike

The Industrial Court brought to an end the latest teachers’ strike. The Kenya National Union of Teachers (Knut) and the Kenya Union of Post Primary Education Teachers (Kuppet) have spent the last few years agitating for the full implementation of a pay deal that was signed in 1997.

There have been several pay increments awarded by the employer since 1997.

 Never mind the fact that our economy has never been able to accommodate the generous wage increments envisaged by the contentious pay deal.

The Salaries and Remuneration Commission (SRC) and the Treasury argue that if the 150 per cent to 200 per cent pay increment sought was to be implemented, the public sector wage bill would increase from 56 per cent of our annual tax revenues to almost 90 per cent.

We are looking at the Sh400 billion increase in the wage bill, paid to one sector. Teachers will take home Sh600 billion, or 60 per cent of Kenya’s annual tax revenue. Is this sustainable use of our national resources?

Teachers will argue that a promise is a promise. They are the victims of an intransigent employer. They also feel victimised by successive governments that have failed to implement the contentious pay deal. The cry from the unions is, deliver the money, or else…

The result is that children in public schools have missed two weeks of learning. When you consider that we have about 10 million children affected who have each lost 80 hours of learning, we find out the true cost of the strike.

800 million hours of learning is the equivalent of 33.333 million days, or 91,324 years. We are being dragged unwillingly back into the Stone Age through lost man-hours. Parents become the real victims here.

Our children are competing in the global economy with their hands tied behind their backs. Who will pay for this lost time? We are held hostage and are expected to turn around and make up with the people who held us captive.

The victim then proceeds to pay the captor for the privilege of being held hostage, and all is forgotten. It is time to change the tune we have been dancing to since independence. It is time to change the law to reflect the realities of life. No work, no pay. If teachers face a reduced pay package at the end of the month, they will have earned it.

They will not have been victimised, because their strike action was deliberate and unwarranted. The government and the employer (TSC) were willing to talk. An offer was made and there was no need for picketing. The Industrial Court is available as a willing mediator of last resort for any industrial dispute.

The refusal by the unions to exhaust all the available mechanisms for dispute resolution smacks of impunity and must not be allowed to go unchecked.

Part of the problem in our education sector is the disparity in performance between rural and urban schools. Our teachers want cushy assignments in the urban areas and avoid postings to remote places like Pokot, Turkana, Samburu, Wajir and Mandera.

The syllabus is never completed because teachers are busy seeking transfers elsewhere. How can the children in these areas be expected to perform as well as their urban counterparts in the national examinations?

 We can break this vicious cycle by providing real incentives for the teachers posted to hardship areas. We should also give all children the tools they need to excel. In this connection, the Jubilee administration will keep its promise to connect all our schools to the national electric grid and supply laptops to our children. This will be the game changer we need to equalise access to education and boost performance in our remote areas.

It is also time that we devolved the pay negotiation process and introduced performance contracts for the education sector.

The only way to ensure all our children excel is to expect consistently better performance from our teachers in every school and county. The average mark in the KCPE and KCSE should be a key factor in the salary negotiations for teachers in each county.

Teachers in schools that improve and excel consistently should earn a bonus and a salary increment. We want to create and recognise true achievement, not reward mediocrity. This system has worked very well in the private sector and will help boost the quality of education offered to our children.

The victim will therefore become the winner and we will all benefit. Of course this proposal will be met with outrage by the unions and their members, but pay increases are earned, they are not automatic.

Wake up teachers, and smell the coffee. We refuse to be held hostage again by any of our service providers, be they teachers, doctors, nurses and those in other sectors. Frivolous strike actions must never be allowed to happen again without consequence.