Looming crisis in JSS as teachers threaten to down tools in January

A section of Junior Secondary School teachers address the press at a Nairobi hotel on December 23, 2023. [Collins Kweyu, Standard]

Thousands of intern teachers have threatened not to resume duty in January unless the government employs them on permanent and pensionable terms as per an earlier agreement, a move that may spell doom for Junior Secondary Schools (JSS) where they were posted.

The Teachers Service Commission (TSC), hire 46,000 intern teachers to bridge bridge the gap as it bids to address the challenge of the shortage of teachers. Of these, 21,500 were deployed to JSS.

Last Sunday, President William Ruto assured JSS interns of employment once they serve for two years.

"It is now a government practice for the intern teachers to work for two years before they are employed on permanent and pensionable terms," Ruto said at State House.

"The JSS intern teachers will be at work in January. We had promised that before being employed on permanent and pensionable terms, they must do an internship for two years."

However, the interns have been uncomfortable with the arrangement. They said they are qualified and registered with TSC and do not understand why they are being treated as those still in college training, getting a stipend, not a salary.

Emboldened by a court order issued by Justice Byram Ongaya that TSC should not terminate their contracts over the dispute, the interns said they will not resume duty when schools reopen.

The judge ordered TSC not to terminate internship arrangements until a case filed before him is heard and determined.

Yesterday, the teachers, under the banner JSS National Interim Leadership, called on TSC to abide by the agreement and the court order.

“The existing court order affects 21,500 JSS interns, and their failure to report to schools come January 8, 2024, could lead to an educational crisis," said Mr Bornface Omari, who read a statement on their behalf.

He added: "From January, we will down tools to paralyse learning in JSS unless we are employed on permanent and pensionable terms." 

The teachers said the initial deal was they would serve for only one-year non-renewable contract, as interns before being offered permanent jobs. They said they do not understand why the deal has been stretched to two years.

The teachers accused the government of trying to coerce them to consent to a new contract contrary to what they signed.

“Many of our members have been called to sign new contracts that we don’t know anything about. We do not understand why we are being pushed to sign those contracts. And we are saying no permanent jobs, no teaching,” said Evans Ochieng, a teacher from Nairobi.

He added: “We have been in court, we have an order and we shall not get back to class.”

The labour court directive issued on December 19, 2023, expressly prohibits TSC and Ministry of Education from altering the provisions of the internship contracts until the legal proceedings are concluded.

The contracts were to end in December 31, 2023. A clause in the contracts states that they are not open for renewal, preventing any attempts to extend the internships beyond January.

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