Disciplining junior secondary intern teachers uncalled for

Junior Secondary School Intern teachers addressing the press in Nairobi on June 8th 2024. They agreed to suspend their demonstrations and urged all the teachers to return to class as from Monday 10th June 2024. [Collins Oduor, Standard]

The Teacher’s Service Commission (TSC) commenced disciplinary action against Junior Secondary School (JSS) intern teachers for having demonstrated against discriminatory employment terms.

This, notwithstanding that Kenya National Union of Teachers (Knut) engaged TSC after stakeholders convinced the teachers to resume work, which they did. Media reports indicate that 742 teachers were served termination letters by June 11, 2024.

Although the JSS intern teachers’ nationwide demonstrations did not follow the legal framework for addressing displeasure and disputes between the employers and the employees, it helped the TSC to get the attention of key stakeholders in the sector, including the political class which, in turn, appropriated funds for hiring of a substantive number of them on permanent and pensionable terms in the budgetary allocations for 2024/2025 fiscal year.

Kenya got independence through agitation, advocacy, demonstrations and activities of related nature to catch the attention of the oppressors.

The repeal of section 2 (a) of the old constitution was done out of pressure mounted by Kenyans through demonstrations, picketing and presentation of public petitions as currently espoused in Article 37 of the Constitution.

Even the creation of TSC came out of the similar pressure in 1966. demonstrations were held to make TSC an independent commission. JSS teachers therefore did not commit any crime by demonstrating.

Knut joined this conversation by writing to the TSC on May 22, 2024, asking the commission to address the matter with sobriety. The commission expressed willingness to address the impasse.

The union also wrote to the National Assembly on the same date, asking that the august House appropriates funds to be used to employ the said teachers on permanent and pensionable basis. Parliament was able to swiftly work on a formula to get 26,000 teachers absorbed in the 2024/2025 Financial Year. Therefore, the demonstrations paid off.

It must be noted that, on natural justice grounds, the demonstrations were justified since our Constitution, Article 27(1) (4), speaks against discrimination of citizens on any grounds. The same is supported by the Employment Act 2007 part III Section 5 (1) (a).

The Code of Regulations for Teachers does not have a provision for employing teachers as interns; it has the provision of permanent and pensionable and contracts. The term ‘intern’ was, is and continues to be irregular in so far as employment of teachers is concerned.

Employing teachers on contract terms started in 2009 when the country was facing an acute shortage of tutors and going hard economic times. It was supposed to be a stop-gap measure, not a means of employing teachers.

The Sh17,000 that teachers are being paid as stipend was and continues to be too little for a teacher to live a decent life. Given the fact that the cost of living had skyrocketed and with the raised taxation, it was imperative that these teachers come together to voice for grievances.

Without travelling allowance, medical cover and house allowance their quality of life would be  low and this would adversely affect the quality of education they are offering.

The world is still committed to the Sustainable Development Goal 4 on provision of quality education to enable upward social mobility. But quality education cannot be provided by a teacher whose quality of life is low.

These teachers are still not happy about the way the commission handled their matter. The TSC failed to listen to them and to give them solutions and instead went ahead to categorise them as ‘criminals’ just because they came together to highlight the challenges they were going through.

The commission should know that the education sector is going through a healing process after the over five weeks of the stalemate that led to learners missing classes.

TSC should accept that a mistake was done and that all that should be forgotten and the sector allowed to forge ahead. The commission should therefore lead in the healing process instead of fanning more tension and confusion.

Knut urges that the termination letters be withdrawn unconditionally and the demonstrations be treated as a way that was used to express displeasure when injustice was meted against this group of young, energetic and patriotic Kenyans.

The concerned teachers should not be victimised in any way because of their actions. 

Kenyans of goodwill, including MPs who burnt the midnight oil to ensure money has been provided for employment of these intern teachers, should come out and ask that all the 46,000 JSS intern teachers be employed on permanent terms letters in July 2024.

Meanwhile, I thank all the intern teachers for accepting to go back to school as their matters get addressed.