The agony and frustrations of teachers in northern counties

Teachers from Mandera County pitch camp at the Teacher Service Commission (TSC) Offices in Nairobi. (File, Standard)
The Teachers Service Commission has laid bare the pain, blackmail and court battles it has endured for the last five years to keep teachers in class in the insecurity stricken northeastern Kenya.

In a blow-by-blow narration, TSC told MPs it has now resigned to the perennial remorse of teachers to grant them transfer wishes.

“For the past five years, the Commission has had to bury approximately 42 young, vibrant and energetic teachers who for the love and passion of their profession were posted to serve in the region,” said Nancy Macharia, the TSC Chief Executive Officer.

Dr Macharia said under her leadership, the Commission has had to literally force and coerce teachers to return to work in the region.

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“This has become unsustainable as the well-coordinated killing of non-local teachers continued unabated,” she said.

Right to life

She said massive interdiction and subsequent dismissal of teachers for desertion of duty did not pay off, noting that it only resulted in circumstances beyond TSC control.

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“I know the rights of the pupils to education and I want them treated like every other Kenyan children. However, considering the rights of the children and the rights to life for teachers, the right to life is sacrosanct,” said Macharia when she appeared before a parliamentary committee yesterday.

She explained that in 2014, the first attack was registered on a passenger bus from Mandera to Nairobi for December holidays break, killing 24 teachers.

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A few weeks later when schools opened in 2015, some 1,400 non–local teachers refused to report to their workstations in North Eastern region.

“Instead, the teachers camped at TSC headquarters demanding transfer from the region. Guided by the need to optimally staff the region, the Commission instructed the teachers to report to their duty stations,” Macharia said.

Pushed to the wall, TSC stopped the teachers’ salaries and later interdicted them for desertion of duty.

“This decision was aimed at coercing the teachers to resume duty notwithstanding their fears of unsafe working environment in North Eastern region,” MPs heard.

Then the court battles set in. “Six teachers sponsored by the Kenya National Union of Teachers (Knut) filed a case on behalf of their colleagues,” she said.

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The Employment and Labour Relations Court directed the Commission to reinstate the teachers’ salaries and pay all the arrears notwithstanding the fact that the said teachers were not teaching but camping at TSC headquarters.

“The Commission interdicted the teachers, suspended them from service for few months and posted them back to North Eastern region. Some declined and were dismissed from service,” said Dr Macharia.

But that was not all. In April 2015, the terror attack in Garissa University that killed 148 students also triggered mass exodus of non-local teachers from the region. “A total of 909 teachers failed to report to their work stations and demanded transfer out of the region. Again, holding our firm view to ensure education is not compromised in North Eastern region, the Commission interdicted the teachers and later posted them back to Garissa and its environs,” said Macharia.

Exodus

Three years later, two attacks were noted. In February 2018 three non-local teachers were attacked and killed at Qarsa, Primary School, Wajir County, which sparked yet another exodus and protests from non-local teachers demanding to be transferred.

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And in October same year, two non-local teachers at Arabia Boys Secondary School in Mandera County were killed by Al-Shabaab terrorists.

These two cases again led to mass protests and demands for transfer by teachers in the region. “Between 2018 and 2020, there have been sporadic attacks targeted at non-local teachers which did not receive wide coverage by the media,” said Dr Macharia.

In the face of all these, Parliament received petitions, debated them and recommended transfer of teachers from North Eastern region.

Meanwhile, Knut and the Kenya Human Rights Commission (KHRC) continued to fight TSC’s efforts through court. “Upon hearing the application ex-parte, the court issued orders compelling the Commission to stop posting non-local teachers to North Eastern region, not to interdict non local teachers who are stationed in the NE region and to transfer non-local teachers from the region,” she said.

Exonerating the Commission from any blame, Macharia said TSC has taken several initiatives to arrest the issue of safety of teachers at their work places.

“We have held consultative meetings with MPs from North Eastern region, we have requested to the Ministry of Interior to improve security in public institutions and consistently returned teachers to the region,” she said.

TSC said the political leadership of North Eastern Counties holds the key to a lasting solution to the education crisis in the region.

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Teachers Service CommissionTSCNancy Macharia