Trainee teachers, ministry in stand off over Garissa

Having unsuccessfully tried to coerce more than 1,800 teachers who had fled the North-Eastern frontier counties over insecurity, the Ministry of Education is involved in a fresh row with the Kenya National Union of Teachers (Knut) over another attempt to force trainee teachers to go back to Garissa Teachers Training College.

This time round, it is about the fate of more than 600 students of Garissa Teachers Training College who have petitioned the ministry to transfer them to safer regions and the Kenya National Examinations Council (Knec) to relocate the institution's examinations centre to Nairobi.

Either petition has been rejected, putting students at risk of missing out on graduation due in three months. More than half of the college's 602 students are yet to report back for studies.

The college principal Mukhtar Adan Barre, confirms majority of the students have not reported back while those who have reported live in fear of being attacked by Al Shabaab.

Education Cabinet Secretary Jacob Kaimenyi, last week directed the students, who have vowed to stay put, to return to Garissa or risk forfeiting the chance to become teachers. The directive was met with stiff resistance from Knut, which now supports the trainee teachers in their quest for security.

Knut Secretary General Wilson Sossion, who is currently in South Korea for an international conference, wants the ministry to transfer the trainee teachers to the more than 45 State-funded colleges in the country as security in North Eastern was not assured to non-locals.

Independent sources said only 80 students had reported back since the institution that trains primary school teachers reopened on May 5. The principal says the government has deployed Kenya Defence Force and the Kenya Police Service to secure the town that was on April 2, the scene of bloodbath in which 148 people were killed by terrorists.

"The college is open and learning is going on, although some students still fear to return because of what happened at Garissa University College, which is less than 200 metres from where we are," Barre says but admits security is still fragile in the county.

Prof Kaimenyi has directed the students to go back, but Sossion is opposed to the ministry, which it accuses of sending the prospective teachers to the slaughter-house.

The ministry concedes, though, that the security situation in North-eastern Kenya remains fluid. Asked to shed light on how the government is handling the situation, Ministry of Education Communications Officer Kennedy Buhere said he was not in a position to speak authoritatively on policy issues.

Jones Osoro, who chairs the group of teachers that wants transfer from North-eastern, says the Al Shabaab threat in the region looms larger than ever before.