The Supreme Court of Kenya ruled in August for a pay increase of 50 to 60 percent for teachers. But the government says it doesn't have the money, so the teachers' unions have gone on strike.
Kenyan public schools have been without teachers for the third week. Over 10 million pupils in public primary and secondary schools are waiting for school to start. The fall term is considered crucial, especially for students who take national exams in October and November.
Student Mary Njuguna is studying for the Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education. She said she and other students are reviewing study materials on their own.
An instructor teaches students in Lodwar, Turkana, Kenya. He supplements his teachers salary with a small shop managed by him and his wife. (K. Prinsloo/ ARETE/UNESCO)
"And it is not easy, but we have no other option for now. There are still some subjects we are yet to complete the syllabus. Our prayer is that an agreement is reached sooner than later."
The National Parents Association (NPA) has asked the government to delay the national exams. Public school students will not be prepared, they say.
Parents have lost confidence in public education, and many have transferred their children to private schools. Private schools are not affected by the teacher's strike.
"We have already paid school fees for our children, and as days go by our children are still waiting for the teachers," says Tom Amwai, a guardian.
"We ask the Government and the Unions to be considerate of our children, who lost two weeks in January and now another three weeks in September."
The government insists that the 50 percent increase is not financially sustainable. President Uhuru Kenyatta created controversy recently when he commented on the issue.
"Over 50 percent of what government collects now goes to paying salaries and with new demands; we will be at 60 per cent. What is going to be left for development? We have to start looking at some of these demands against the economic reality. To pay more, we must be able to make more first."
Akello Misori, an official with the teachers' union, has asked the government to respect the court rulings.
"The only option that the government has is to pay the teachers. Teachers in this country are not going to be subjected to slavery."
The chairman of the teacher's union, Mudzo Nzili, says the country's teachers will not return to school without the pay raise. He says the government has the funds. He says several state-owned companies have received assistance. For example, the Mumia Sugar Factory received about $26 million in February.
"This good government has a lot of money. It may only not have settled on payment because they are not willing, but the moment they begin to take interest they will do it... So the argument that the government has no money does not hold water."
The Teacher Service Commission (TSC) is a government-mandated organization to manage teacher employment. TSC Chair Dr. Lydia Nzomo announced at a press conference on September 14 that the strike is illegal and promises not to pay the teachers for the three weeks they have not worked.
"Their salaries will be stopped and their names struck out of the TSC payroll. No work no pay," says Ms. Nzomo.
The stalemate hurts the quality of education. According to 2012 figures, the student-teacher ratio (the number of students per teacher) averages 47 for primary schools in Kenya. UNESCO recommends about half that number: 24 students per teacher. Visit the website www.chinavoa.com to get more information!
Mr. Nzili says the government should obey the ruling of the court in order to end the strike.
"The government has the constitution to follow. And the Supreme Court is the highest court in the land. And the learned judges took into consideration the economic situation of the country and the sustainability of the demand, and therefore we expect the government to find the ways and means of complying with the court order ... We have every confidence that the government will try to save the situation and rescue the dwindling education sector in Kenya."
Supporters of the government called on the union leadership to work out a deal with the government to get teachers to return to work. But the teachers' union leader disagreed. He said the government has known about teachers' demands since January, but did not set aside enough money for it.
"We need commitment. We need some people to come and say we are committed to pay and we shall pay like this. But we cannot be lost in the woods and seek for any negotiation from people who have themselves not initiated negotiations. And in any case, a court order is not negotiable."
The teachers and their supporters are wearing green ribbons to show that they agree with the union's position.
I'm Jill Robbins.
James Mwangi wrote this story. Dr. Jill Robbins adapted it for Learning English with added material from VOA News. Kathleen Struck was the editor.
Words in This Story
sustainable- adj. able to last or continue for a long time
controversy - n. argument that involves many people who strongly disagree about something
hold water- expression. (said of a statement, theory, or line of reasoning) appear to be valid, sound, or reasonable.
stalemate- n. a contest, dispute, competition, etc., in which neither side can gain an advantage or win
dwindle - v. to gradually become smaller or weaker
negotiable- adj. able to be discussed and changed before an agreement or decision is made