Early Childhood Development (ECD) teachers play a vital role in teaching fundamental skills to children during their formative years. According to the National Association for the Education of Young Children, early childhood education spans the human life from birth to age eight.
During this period a child goes through the most rapid phase of growth and development. Their brains develop faster than at any other point. The foundations for their social skills, self-esteem, perception of the world and moral outlook are established during these years, and cognitive skills.
Young children's needs are unique and ECD teachers are one of the first adults a child interact with outside own family. ECD teachers therefore have an important job of working with these children and the impact they have on them is unparalleled.
Given these critical roles, ECD teachers need better working conditions. Recent reports indicate that the Salaries and Remuneration Commission (SRC) had recommended Early Childhood Development and Education (ECDE) teachers' and caregivers' salaries be slashed to below minimum wage.
Inevitably, the prospect of ECD teachers earning far less than their contemporaries has dismayed many stakeholders, including the Kenya Women Teachers Association (Kewota). The SRC circular dated January 13 that purportedly ordered county governors to pay ECD teachers reduced salaries must be rejected.
Firstly, the Constitution provides for employees' protection also covered under the Employment Act. The Employment Act provides for protection of wages ranging from when they are due, statutory deductions and repayment of remuneration wrongfully withheld or deducted.
Therefore, any arbitrary move to slash current pay for ECD teachers goes against the law. The law equally provides for a minimum wage for certain categories of workers under the Labour institutions Act No. 12 of 2007. The proposed salaries shared in the media fall way below the minimum wage.
The minimum wage is Sh15,120. Therefore, any proposal below this borders on criminality. Have we reached a point where we can blatantly undervalue our ECD teachers in this manner?
For two years, Kewota has been meeting with ECD teachers and county government officials and researchers to learn about what support measures can be given into child care and more importantly what would motivate them to prolong their careers in early childhood care. More often than not, we found that our ECD teachers are undervalued and under resourced. Kenya's child-care plan is at risk if enough attention is not given to our ECD teachers.
When Kenyans agitate for cushion against high cost of living, our teachers must not be left behind. Empowering ECD teachers to support children to develop into their optimal selves requires expertise and resources. Early childhood educators have real opportunity to make a difference in young lives, and influence future generations. As a progressive nation, the move by the SRC to reduce ECD pay packages cannot be positive for our learning objectives.
The writer is Kenya Women Teachers Association (Kewota) CEO