Why teachers’ strikes are always around the corner, and the causes of such strikes has been a topic of repeated discussion by education officials, Government functionaries and journalists. Indeed, explanations – or is it blame – for this trend, have been levelled from every conceivable direction at the teachers. And for good reason.
The fact that teachers’ strikes have always almost happened in the third term of the school calendar – characterised by national examinations – tells a story.
The teachers see this as the perfect time for them to be listened to by their employer because this is when parents want tranquility for their children so they can perform well in the examinations. Against this backdrop, the teachers see this as the right time to 'hit back'.
But that’s perhaps a glimpse of the bigger story. Lack of goodwill and stakeholder involvement have contributed to the sorry situation in the education sector. And when teachers find themselves in a fast-changing society and a set of new situations, it only leads to more confusion.
That’s why the decision by the Teachers Service Commission (TSC) to negotiate with teachers through the secondary school heads, Kenya National Union of Teachers (Knut) and Kenya Union of Post-Primary Education Teachers (Kuppet) on issues that have been a bone of contention in the sector for some time now is a good move.
Granted, teachers have been up in arms against performance appraisals and contracting, arguing that they were not involved in the creation of the tools measuring performance.
This provides the best time for the teachers and Government to engage in this important aspect relating to our children's education.
Indeed, the work boycott threat by the teachers' unions is very serious if past boycotts are anything to go by. Whenever teachers have gone on strike in the past, learning has been thrown into disarray at great cost to students.
If this window provided does not yield fruit, the students, some of whom are preparing for their Kenya Certificate of Primary Education (KCPE) and Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education (KCSE) examinations.
As for specific concerns, TSC and the Ministry of Education are in the best position to address these issues. Take, for instance, performance contracts. If there are any differences, these should and can be negotiated amicably.
The principle that teachers will be rewarded on the basis of their performance cannot and should not be faulted. But differences of opinion between the two sides can only be ironed out when the teachers and their employer give dialogue a chance.
The other issue concerns the Teacher Performance Appraisal and Development (TPAD). While teachers' unions argue that it can’t work, that it is not a good system of appraising teachers and that it is interfering with teaching, the teachers' employer sees it as the only sure way of monitoring performance.
However, TSC knows that classroom teachers are not properly monitored and evaluated on the effectiveness of their teaching methods and the expected outcomes.
Additionally, the commission has to contend with poor communication within its ranks at the field level, lack of proper documentation on teachers' classroom work, and non-compliance with guidelines and timelines related to Performance Contracting and TPAD.
School data management and reports have always shown and indicated mismanagement of these crucial processes, which makes the whole processes a mockery. It is written all over that we have an ill-prepared body to supervise these aspects as is attested by what is happening in schools.
Delocalisation, effected recently, caused a hue and cry among teachers. Traditionally, while it is a well-meaning mechanism to accrue and ensure so many advantages, its implementation must have been both haphazard and unplanned. In its format, it was bound to raise a storm.
The other contentious issue has been the promotion of more than 30,000 teachers who have attained higher academic qualifications. This matter is not new. Teachers have been raising it for years, with every effort to look at it in a holistic manner as the way out. This needs to change.
It would serve the purpose if a new, creative mechanism to reward hard-working teachers could be found. That way, TSC will be able to retain excellent professionals in the classrooms.
Why are so many schools in the country operating in a state of constant frugality? If you ask parents, teachers' strikes have been one of the most irritating inconveniences. That is why, if we retain and encourage the spirit of dialogue and consultations in the education sector, we will all be much richer.
Dr Mogambi, a development and social change expert, teaches at the University of Nairobi; [email protected]